Sourced from the Medical Research Library Links, Harvard Health Publications, and the Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi

Pulmonary Medicine:
COPD. Conventional pulmonary rehab. programs focus on aerobic exercise and strength training to improve exercise capacity, quality of life, and symptoms in patients with COPD. Tai Chi extends the breathing techniques taught in pulmonary rehab. by integrating novel elements, such as progressive relaxation, imagery/visualization, mindfulness of breathing and overall body sensations, postural training, and coordinated patterns of breathing and movement. These additional therapeutic elements make Tai Chi an effective adjunct to conventional rehabilitation.

Neurology Department:
Parkinson’s disease. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study showing that Tai Chi can improve both balance and movement control for people who have Parkinson’s disease. The study at the Oregon Research Institute included 195 people who had mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease; they were randomly assigned to twice-weekly sessions of Tai Chi, or strength-building sessions, or to stretching … after six months, those who did Tai Chi were stronger and had much better balance than those in the other two groups. In fact, their balance was four times better than those in the stretching group and about two times better than those in the resistance-training group. The Tai Chi group also had significatntly fewer falls and slower rates of decline in overall motor control. (Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. Pages 121 and 122.)

Cognitive Function, Neuroplasticity, and Dementia.Although longer follow up periods are desired to make stronger conclusions, a large trial found that after one year a Tai Chi trial group showed greater improvements in cognitive performance after one year than a group assigned to a stretching and toning program. Fewer of those in the Tai Chi group progressed to dementia, and the author’s conclusion was that Tai Chi may offer specific benefits to cognition. (Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, page 185. Additional studies showing Tai Chi benefits in cognitive function found on page 186.)

Neurology Department (Balance Issues):
Otolaryngology Department (Hearing & Balance Disorders):
Proprioception (Ability to sense the position and location and orientation and movement of the body and its parts).One study compared long-term Tai Chi practitioners to age-matched swimmers, runners, and sedentary controls. The Tai Chi practitioners had a better sense of the position of their ankle and knee joints in space, and were more sensitive to small movements of their joints. So, Tai Chi may give you more accurate, quicker feedback for balance and posture, which could help prevent falling. (Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. Page 118.)

Rheumatology Department:
Arthritis.In a 40-person study at Tufts University, presented in October 2008 at a meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, an hour of tai chi twice a week for 12 weeks reduced pain and improved mood and physical functioning more than standard stretching exercises in people with severe knee osteoarthritis. According to a Korean study published in December 2008 in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, eight weeks of tai chi classes followed by eight weeks of home practice significantly improved flexibility and slowed the disease process in patients with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful and debilitating inflammatory form of arthritis that affects the spine.

Fibromyalgia.A recent randomized study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine used a protocal similar to their osteoarthritis and rheumatoid artritis studies. Tai Chi led to a large improvement in symptoms listed on a clinically validated questionnaire about fibromyalgia symptoms, as well as spearate measures related to pain, sleep quality, depression, and quality of life. These improvements were maintained for six months, more Tai Chi subjects cut back on their use of medication compared to controls, and again, there were no Tai chi-related adverse events.

Additional support for using Tai Chi to treat fibromyalgia comes from smaller noncontrolled studies and case series, as well as from studies reporting positive effects on fibromyalgia following mind-body therapies, including Qigong and mindfulness-based stress reduction … growing evidence suggests that Tai Chi, when taught by experienced teachers, is safe and potentially an effective adjunct therapy for people who sufer with back pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. By treating the whole person, Tai Chi targets not only pain but also many of the secondary factors associated with pain, and it sets up behaviors that may slow down disease progression. (Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. Pages 148-149.)

Spine Center:

Back Pain and Chronic Pain.Physicians now recommend regular exercise to improve function in people who have chronic ailments, including arthritis and back pain … Mind-body therapies such as Tai Chi, Qigong, and yoga are widely used by people who have back pain, as well as those who have osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis. A growing body of studies suggest Tai Chi may be effective for easing pain and improving quality of life for these and other pain conditions. This research also is beginning to show how Tai Chi may positively affect musculoskeletal pain conditions, such as by improving strength, flexibility, postural alignment, neuromuscular movement patterns, breathing, and psychological well-being.

Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi author, Peter Wayne, and Harvard researcher, Gloria Yeh, conducted a small, unpublished pilot study in which they anonymously surveyed 144 practitioners (of Tai Chi), average age 53, two-thirds of them women, at Boston area Tai Chi schools. More than half of these Tai Chi practitioners said they had used Tai Chi for back or neck pain, and nearly all reported Tai Chi was “helpful” or “very helpful.”
A handful of Tai Chi and Qigong studies in diverse populations, including cancer survivors and osteoporotic women, suggest that Tai Chi may have a positive impact on markers of inflammation. (Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. Pages 130 to 141.)

Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences Department:
Anxiety/Depression.A growing number of studies support the positive impact of Tai Chi on many aspects of psychological well-being. Dr. Chenchen Wang of Tufts University School of Medicine identified 40 studies conducted both in the West and in China that included an evaluation of Tai Chi for psychological outcomes. … The review concluded that Tai Chi appears to be associated with improvements in stress, anxiety, depression, mood, and increased self-esteem. (Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. Page 206.)

Endrocrinology Metabolism and Genetics Department:
Low bone density.A review of six controlled studies by Dr. Wayne and other Harvard researchers indicates that tai chi may be a safe and effective way to maintain bone density in postmenopausal women. A controlled study of tai chi in women with osteopenia (diminished bone density not as severe as osteoporosis) is under way at the Osher Research Center and Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Bone strength & density.The most rigorous support for the positive effects of Tai chi on BMD (bone marrow density) comes from randomized trials. One trial observed that BMD at the lumbar spine significantly increased following 01 months of Tai Chi, while in sedentary controls, the BMD decreased. … A second randomized trial observed that for older women (but not men), 12 months of Tai Chi resulted in maintenance of total hip BMD levels when compared to non-exercise controls, who lost bone in their hips … the beneficial effects of Tai Chi were equivalent to 12 months of resistance training.

Diabetes.A Louisiana State University study found that people who had plantar peripheral neuropathy due to diabetes, after 24 weeks of Tai Chi classes enjoyed an increased sensitivity of the soles of the feet, greater balance, and faster walking speed. (Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. Page 118.)

Diabetes.A few studies, including one randomized trial, have reported improvements in blood sugar control following Tai Chi training. However, most of the more rigorous RCTs have not reported any apparent benefit of Tai Ch on glucose metabolism. (Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. Page 158.)

Cancer Center:
Breast cancer.Tai chi has shown potential for improving quality of life and functional capacity (the physical ability to carry out normal daily activities, such as work or exercise) in women suffering from breast cancer or the side effects of breast cancer treatment. For example, a 2008 study at the University of Rochester, published in Medicine and Sport Science, found that quality of life and functional capacity (including aerobic capacity, muscular strength, and flexibility) improved in women with breast cancer who did 12 weeks of tai chi, while declining in a control group that received only supportive therapy.
– Harvard Health Publications – Harvard Medical School

Immune System Improvement:
Regular Tai Chi Chuan exercise improves T cell helper function of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus with an increase in T-bet transcription factor and IL-12 production.
OBJECTIVE: This study investigated the effect of a 12-week course of Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) exercise on T cell helper (Th) reaction in patients with type 2 DM.
CONCLUSIONS: A 12-week TCC exercise programme decreases HbA1c levels along with an increase in the Th1 reaction. A combination of TCC with medication may provide an even better improvement in both metabolism and immunity of patients with type 2 DM.

Tai Chi had a significant effect on functional mobility and beliefs about the health benefits of exercise. Total white blood cell and red blood cell count did not change, but a significant decrease in monocyte count occurred. A significant increase in the ratio of T helper to suppressor cells (CD4:CD8) was found, along with a significant increase in CD4CD25 regulatory T cells.
— British Journal of Sports Medicine, 40, 239-43

IMMUNE SYSTEM: A study conducted in China indicates that T’ai Chi may increase the number of T lymphocytes in the body. Also know as T-Cells, these lymphocytes help the immune system destroy bacteria and possibly even tumor cells
— Prevention Magazine V. 42, May 90, p.14-15

Tai chi boosts your immune system (T-Cell count DOUBLED)
The ancient martial art of tai chi could substantially boost the body’s immune system. Medisch Dossier (volume 6, number 7), a Dutch medical newsletter, reports on a study where a group of older men and women (average age of 70) practiced tai chi three days a week for 45 minutes. After fifteen weeks they not only felt healthier, but had twice the number of immune cells or so-called T-cells “with memories”, which are specially equipped to knock out the virus that causes shingles-an affliction in many older people.
– Ode Magazine

A 2012 University of Wisconsin, Madison, study found that mindful meditation can cut your chances of catching a cold by 40 to 50%. Fifty-one people using mindfulness techniques logged 13 fewer illnesses and 51 fewer sick days than a control group during one cold and flu season.
A University of Virginia study found that their varsity swim team swimmers got 70% fewer respiratory infections when practicing Qigong at least once a week, compared to swimmers who used it less.
— Prevention Magazine’s Winter/2012 Issue.

Internal Medicine Department – Division of Cardiovascular Diseases:
Heart disease.A 53-person study at National Taiwan University found that a year of tai chi significantly boosted exercise capacity, lowered blood pressure, and improved levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, and C-reactive protein in people at high risk for heart disease. The study, which was published in the September 2008 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found no improvement in a control group that did not practice tai chi.

Pulmonary Medicine:
Breathing. Studies have shown better respiratory function in Tai Chi practitioners compared to those who are sdentary. What’s more, Tai Chi appears to slow the loss of respiratory function in older adults over time in studies up to five years long. (Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. Page 172)

Sleep Disorders Center:
Sleep problems.In a University of California, Los Angeles, study of 112 healthy older adults with moderate sleep complaints, 16 weeks of tai chi improved the quality and duration of sleep significantly more than standard sleep education. The study was published in the July 2008 issue of the journal Sleep.

Allergy & Immunology:
Asthma.Preliminary research indicates that Tai Chi, as well as other mind-body exercises like Qigong, may be helpful for asthmatics, both children and adults. 12 weeks of Tai Chi training improved the lung function of children with asthma in a small Taiwanese study. A small Thailand study suggested that adult asthma sufferers may be able to better control their breathing and improve their exercise performance using Tai Chi training. After six weeks of Tai Chi training, the patients said they felt more comfortable during a six-minute walk and increased their maximum work rate and maximum oxygen consumption. (Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, page 179.)

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