Originally published March 28 2009
Tai Chi Provides Natural Treatment for Stroke Damage
by Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
(NaturalNews) For at least 600 years, the Chinese practice of tai chi has been used as a form of martial arts exercise that integrates body, mind and spirit. According to the philosophy behind the practice, the slow, fluid postures of tai chi focus concentration while gently working muscles. The result, tai chi practitioners say, is an improved flow of "qi" (sometimes spelled " chi"), a vital life energy that promotes mind and body calmness and health. Now modern-day scientists are backing up many of these ancient claims. A case in point: a new study shows tai chi can help people recover from stroke-caused damage to their nervous systems.
People who have survived strokes may be faced with lingering problems including maintaining their balance. This is more than just an annoyance and uncomfortable feeling that interferes with their quality of life. It also raises the risk of debilitating and possibly fatal falls. But researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have found tai chi is a drug-free way to treat these stroke-caused balance problems.
Earlier research has previously shown tai chi can improve balance and reduce falls among healthy elders. So, while at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Christina Hui-Chan, and her colleague Stephanie Au-Yeung decided to see if tai chi would also help stroke survivors. They studied 136 research subjects in Hong Kong who had suffered a stroke more than six months earlier. The participants were randomly placed into two groups for 12 weeks. The control group practiced breathing, stretching and other exercises that included sitting and walking. The tai chi group practiced a simplified form of the ancient martial art consisting of coordinated movements of the head, trunk and limbs that require concentration and attention to balance.
At the end of the 12 week study, the research subjects were given several balance tests. Both the tai chi and the control group performed about the same on a test that involved the ability to stand, walk and sit back down. However, when tested on their ability to maintain balance while shifting weight, leaning in different directions, and standing on moving surfaces to simulate a crowded bus, the tai chi group clearly out-performed the control exercise group. The results of the research are set for publication in a forthcoming issue of the journal Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair.
"The tai chi group did particularly better in conditions that required them to use their balance control," Hui-Chan, professor and head of physical therapy at UIC, said in a statement to the media. "In only six weeks, we saw significant improvements. The ability to shift your weight is very important because all reaching tasks require it."
In addition to improving balance, Hui-Chan explained tai chi also improves strength and cardiovascular fitness. What's more, tai chi classes can provide seniors with healthy group interactions that help prevent social isolation, too. She added that most people can learn the art of tai chi if they are taught by a trained instructor.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is also showing interest in the benefits of tai chi. The NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is currently sponsoring studies to find out more about tai chi's effects, how it works, and diseases and conditions for which it may be most helpful.
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About the authorSherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.
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