June 2, 2021 – The practice of meditative and rhythmic tai chi flow works just as well as aerobic exercise and strength training to achieve certain health benefits such as reduced waistline and improved cholesterol , suggest new discoveries.
The results of a randomized controlled trial published online May 31 in the Annals of Internal Medicine show that people who have difficulty with certain types of aerobic exercise may derive similar benefits from tai chi.
The study is “very impressive,” says Bavani Nadeswaran, MD, of the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute at the University of California, Irvine, who was not involved in the study.
Many people have arthritis or back pain, “and aerobic exercise can be difficult for them,” she says. “The great thing about exercises like tai chi and yoga is that they are low impact.” This means that people who cannot run or have access to a pool to swim have a viable alternative.
The study included nearly 550 adults aged 50 and over in Hong Kong who were randomly assigned to engage in tai chi, aerobic exercise with strength training, or no exercise program for 12 weeks. All had a waist circumference of over 35.4 inches for men and 31.5 inches for women.
The tai chi program consisted of three weekly one-hour sessions of practice, led by an instructor. Those who participated in the aerobic exercise group engaged three times a week in a rapid tai chi and strength-training exercise program, also led by an instructor.
The researchers measured changes in waist circumference, cholesterol levels, and weight for about 9 months. Those who didn’t exercise had little change in their average waistline. Compared to the group who did not exercise, the average waist circumference of people in both exercise groups decreased more: 0.7 inches higher with tai chi and 0.5 inches higher with tai chi. more with brisk walking and strength training.
Both exercise groups also had larger drops in body weight and triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood), and larger increases in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. , compared to the group without exercise. All of these improvements lasted for about 9 months with tai chi. But the improvements in cholesterol levels did not last that long in people on the brisk walking program.
The researchers also looked at the effects on blood pressure and blood sugar, but found no difference between the groups.
The results don’t necessarily mean that people with larger waistlines should skip their current exercise programs and turn to tai chi, says study author Parco Siu, PhD, chief of staff. the Division of Kinesiology at the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong. They show that tai chi is a good option if a person prefers it.
“This is good news for middle aged and older adults who may be averse to conventional exercise,” he said in an email. But “it is certainly not a problem for people to continue to participate in regular exercises.”
Tai chi may also be a good choice for people with no larger waistlines, because doing this form of exercise is one way to follow the World Health Organization’s advice on physical activity, says Siu. , although the study did not address this issue.
Siu and the other researchers note several limitations to the study, including the fact that all of the people who participated in it were in China, so how the practice would affect people in different regions is unclear. Additionally, nearly a third of those who started the study dropped out before it was finished, and they tended to have a higher body weight than those who stayed until the end. The authors say this high dropout rate could mean that some people have had negative experiences during their exercise programs.
The next steps, Siu says, include a more in-depth assessment of how tai chi affects things like blood sugar and blood pressure. Other early-stage studies also show that tai chi has positive effects on mood and cognition, he says, pointing to the need for more research.
UC Irvine’s Nadeswaran agrees. The work opens the door, she says, to a long-term examination of how practicing tai chi might affect the risk of dying from heart disease or some other cause. His team’s work consists of evaluating the effects of tai chi on several conditions, including metabolic syndrome and even the sequelae of COVID-19.
As researchers pursue these questions, tai chi is accessible in several ways. Siu notes the availability of classes in this “moving meditation” practice at community centers and fitness clubs. For people who can’t yet join real-world activities, Nadeswaran says virtual tai chi classes are also available.
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