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Biomedical Research

Tai Chi: The Martial Art of Healing

While people often view medicine in the form of prescriptions and surgeries, there are often activities to prevent or mitigate health issues. Tai chi is a martial art that is typically thought to only be performed by seniors, but people of all ages can practice tai chi and improve their overall health.

Introduction

As we enter our later stages of life, it becomes even more crucial that we take good care of our bodies, whether it is maintaining a healthy diet or getting enough exercise every day.  However, there are many additional activities that can be done such as tai chi, which have a multitude of benefits, ranging from reducing the risk of falling to alleviating pain.  Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that emphasizes slow, flowing movements, meaning almost anyone is capable of doing it.

While growing older, we may notice that our muscles and bones become weaker, our reaction time is slower, and our focus is not as sharp as it used to be.  Tai chi is a simple and non-invasive method that has been shown to counter all of these issues.  Ph.D. Peter Wayne, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, explains that adults over the age of 65 can see a 20% – 40% reduction in the risk of falls, even after a short six months of practicing tai chi.

Methods

A 2012 research paper by Cochrane, a British organization dedicated to cover medical research findings, found that about 30% of people over 65 years fall each year.  They pooled data from about 160 trials and over 79,000 participants, looking for methods that were the most effective in preventing seniors from falling.  One example of a method consisted of several groups and home-based programs working on strength and balance exercises.  In general, they found that any seniors that actively did exercises were less prone to falls and sustaining severe injuries.  

In addition, there is strong evidence that tai chi assists in strengthening our bones.  As we age, it is common for us to have osteopenia which is when our bones become brittle due to a lack of calcium.  Our body becomes unable to make new bone cells as fast as it reabsorbs old bone cells.  However, tai chi has been shown to stimulate bone growth which combats the effects of osteopenia.  

One research paper from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) studied the health effects of tai chi on people with certain bone conditions such as knee osteoarthritis and bone mineral density loss.  This study recognized prior research that contained strong evidence for the beneficial effects of tai chi and sought to make a definitive claim.  

Like the paper from Cochrane, NCBI noted that tai chi does mitigate the effects of bone mineral density loss.  This research was a 24 week long program consisting of a diverse population from breast cancer survivors to diabetic older adults.  The constant use of the waist and slow full body movements were the two main features that attributed to slowing bone mineral density loss.  In addition, NCBI found that tai chi also helped with flexibility, increasing muscular strength, controlled breathing, regulating blood pressure, and balance.  This is especially beneficial to older adults with hypertension or high blood pressure and Parkinson’s disease which is known to cause loss of balance, stiffness, tremors and slow movement.  There was an in-depth look into specific forms of tai chi such as the Sun-style, composed of quick movements, and Yang-style which is the most common form associated with slow, stretching movements.  However, among the three tai chi forms, they all shared benefits, specifically relating to bone health.

Conclusion

Tai chi involves a variety of movements and emphasizes control over the body from breathing to balance.  It contains several exercises that require shifting weight and maintaining balance which is vital for many seniors.  Regardless of what style of tai chi is practiced, it has proven to be very beneficial.  From personal experience, some of my relatives have been practicing tai chi for decades and it has helped their physical and mental health tremendously.  Tai chi is a low impact form of exercise that people of any age are capable of performing.  From reducing the risk of falls to alleviating chronic pain such as knee osteoarthritis, tai chi has a variety of positive impacts on our health.

Kyle Phong, Youth Medical Journal 2020

References

Harvard Health Publishing, “Protect your bones with tai chi”, October 2020,

https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/protect-your-bones-with-tai-chi

Cochrane Library, “Interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community”, 12 September 2020,

https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD007146.pub3/full

Harvard Magazine, “Easing Ills through Tai Chi”, February 2010,

https://harvardmagazine.com/2010/01/researchers-study-tai-chi-benefits

Medical News Today, “What are the health benefits of tai chi?”, 30 August 2018,

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265507#types

NCBI, “The Effect of Taichi Practice on Attenuating Bone Mineral Density Loss: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analusis of Randomized Controlled Trials”, 1 September 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5615537/ 

Tai Chi Image https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Ftaichihealth.com%2Fembedded-pages%2Ftai-chi-for-seniors%2F&psig=AOvVaw037QBfOoEF8yPIBqIPJOP1&ust=1603757650441000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CA0QjhxqFwoTCOj80vv80OwCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAg 

By Kyle Phong

Kyle Phong is a student at Whitney High School in Cerritos, California. He enjoys learning about the fields of psychology and evolution.

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