One of the hottest topics in modern biomedical research is also the world’s oldest and most popular forms of exercise used as medicine. The evidence base of clinical studies on T’ai Chi is growing as more benefits are found. According to the Harvard Medical Health Publication “T’ai chi is often described as meditation in motion, but it might well be called medication in motion”. There is a growing body of evidence that this mind-body practice can be useful in treating or preventing many common health problems. One review of 507 studies and randomized clinical trials 94% reported positive effects of T’ai Chi on hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, COPD, heart disease, depression and even schizophrenia. Many more studies are underway to explore the medical benefits of this mind/body exercise.
Evidence Base of Clinical Studies on T’ai Chi
The quantity and evidence base of clinical studies on T’ai Chi is substantial. A total of 507 studies on T’ai Chi have been published between 1958 and 2013. The top 10 diseases/conditions was hypertension, diabetes, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis or osteopenia, breast cancer, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary heart disease, schizophrenia, and depression. Many healthy participants practiced T’ai Chi for the purpose of health promotion or preservation. Yang style T’ai Chi was the most popular, and T’ai Chi was frequently practiced two to three 1-hour sessions per week for 12 weeks. The majority of studies (94.1%) reported positive effects of T’ai Chi and no serious adverse events related to T’ai Chi were reported.
“T’ai Chi Chuan – The Supreme Ultimate Exercise”
Developed over the last 8 centuries, T’aijiquan (T’ai chi) is currently the primary form of physical and exercise therapy in the Peoples’ Republic of China. With an estimated 100 million practitioners of over twenty years experience in China alone, T’aijiquan has become one of the world’s most popular forms of long term physical activity. The AMA says “T’ai chi’s purpose is to moderately exercise all the muscles and achieve integration between mind and body. The China Sports editorial board defines T’aijiquan as “physical exercises of consciousness.” Using skills taught in T’ai chi we can all perform better at everything we do.
The 507 studies were conducted in 21 different countries, and the majority of studies (317/507, 62.5%) were conducted in China, followed by the United States (104/507, 20.5%)
The first clinical study on T’ai Chi published in 1958 in Chinese, which was a case series on Tuberculosis (TB) , and the first RCT on T’ai Chi was published in 1988 in Chinese, in which T’ai Chi combined with Qigong were designed as a cardiac rehabilitation program . The publication of clinical studies on T’ai Chi increased with years, especially after the year 2000.
Among the 507 studies, 94 % found positive effect of T’ai Chi, the most frequently reported outcomes were:
- Physical performance
- Strength, flexibility, cardiovascular function,, pulmonary function, body mass index
- Balance, falls prevention, fracture, fear of falling,
- Quality of life,
- Coronary heart disease, angina, hypertension
- Minnesota Living With Heart Failure Questionnaire
- Type 2 diabetes
- St George’s Respiratory Questionnaire
- Psychological well-being, depression, stress, mood,
- Self-efficacy, anxiety, self-esteem,
- Quality of sleep
- Osteoarthritis, rheumatic arthritis,
- Breast cancer,
- Parkinson disease,
- Four systematic reviews assessed the effect of T’ai Chi on psychological well-being
- Four systematic reviews focused on fall prevention
More Randomly Controlled Trials
This review reflects the most comprehensive analysis to date of the clinical evidence on T’ai Chi for rehabilitation and health. There is a steady growth of the evidence base of clinical studies on T’ai Chi, especially higher level evidence such as Randomly Controlled Trials.
T’ai Chi has been examined in clinical trials in 21 countries, including both developed and developing countries worldwide. Of note, this research is mainly supported by governments, indicating the broad higher level interest in T’ai Chi among national health care organizations.