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In China one’s internal energy, or qi (pronounced chee), is considered not only a vital tool for preventing illnesses and disabilities caused by aging, but one that can also be effective in resolving existing health conditions.  But, westerners say, “show me the proof,” meaning that they believe that only scientific studies can establish the benefits of exercises.  If they were to look more deeply into both the medical evidence and the movements themselves, however, they would discover that there is, in fact, ample research that confirms what the Chinese have known for centuries.

Among the books and treatises that substantiate this proof is The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, which states, “Tai Chi has something to offer you whether you are young or old, trying to prevent disease or rehabilitating from one, trying to manage everyday stress more gracefully or interested in self-discovery, enhancing creativity, or improving sports performance.”

This and many other recent books and studies all conclude that scientific research has confirmed the effectiveness of Tai Chi and Qigong in helping to prevent and/or resolve many illnesses, including high blood pressure, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, depression, arthritis, anxiety, fibromyalgia and many ailments of aging, even cancer. Tai Chi and Qigong can also improve balance, flexibility, circulation, immune system health, sleep disorders and the symptoms of stress. 


One of the most common causes of injury is falls. Tai Chi can dramatically improve one’s balance and reduce the risk of falling. The US National Library has published A Comprehensive Review of Health Benefits of Qiqong and Tai Chi (USNL), which summarizes many of the existing studies of this subject and includes the following: “Outcomes related to falls such as balance, fall rates, and improved flexibility were reported in 24 articles. Scores directly assessing balance (such as one-leg stance) or other closely related measures were consistently, significantly improved according to 16 Tai Chi studies that only included participants who were sedentary or deemed at risk for falls.” Health columnist Jane Brody, in The New York Times, writes, “Perhaps the best-documented benefit of Tai Chi, and one that is easiest to appreciate, is its ability to improve balance and reduce the risk of falls, even in people in their 80s and 90s.”


The USNL findings are that, “Physical function measured with a wide variety of performance indicators, including chair rise, 50-ft walk, gait speed, muscle contraction strength [and] hand grip… were variously found to be significantly improved in 5 studies comparing Tai Chi to minimal activity. The American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine has concluded that, “TCC [Tai Chi Chaun] training may enhance muscular strength and endurance of knee extensors in elderly individuals.”


The Harvard Women’s Health Watch has found that, “Although tai chi is slow and gentle and doesn’t leave you breathless, it addresses the key components of fitness—muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and, to a lesser degree, aerobic conditioning. This finding is echoed at “Researchers looked at seven studies focusing on the effects of tai chi on aerobic capacity in adults (average age 55 years). The investigators found that individuals who practiced Tai Chi for one year (classical Yang style with 108 postures) had higher aerobic capacity than sedentary individuals around the same age. The authors state that Tai Chi may be an additional form of aerobic exercise.”


This may be the most obvious benefit that Tai Chi affords practitioners. Yoga is definitely a wonderful exercise for this increasingly vital ability as one ages. But Tai Chi also provides increased flexibility by focusing on tendons and ligaments. As HealthStatus states, “Tai Chi is the starting point for martial arts experts, but can be modified for aging adults to increase flexibility.”


The Harvard Medical Guide devotes an entire chapter to how Tai Chi can be useful in the workplace, concluding that, “If you look for them, many opportunities are available to practice Tai Chi principles and incorporate them into your workday experience A short Tai Chi break may help you work harder and better, and even make you more creative… Whether you work in a cubicle, a big private office or behind a cash register at the mall, practicing Tai Chi principals can help you organize a healthier, energy-efficient environment [and relieve] pain in the neck, back, shoulders and hands.” In addition, the chapter states that it can also increase productivity, decrease lost time at work and improve morale.


Virtually all scientific studies of Tai Chi point out its stress-reducing effects. In the UNLM review, when a stressful situation was created and participants’ responses measured, “Significant improvements… [were shown] in adrenaline levels, heart rate, and noradrenaline levels [with] Tai Chi compared to a neutral reading intervention, while all groups showed improvements in cortisol. In another study examining blood markers related to stress response, norepinephrine, epinephrine and cortisol blood levels were significantly decreased in response to Qigong compared to a wait-list control group.”


The University of North Carolina School of Medicine has published a study asserting that, “Tai Chi relieves arthritis pain, improves reach, balance, well-being. The study found that there are significant benefits of Tai Chi for individuals with all types of arthritis, including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. In the largest study to date of the Arthritis Foundation’s Tai Chi program, participants showed improvement in pain, fatigue, stiffness and sense of well-being.” The magazine Prevention cites a A Chinese study reported in the December 2004 Physician and Sports medicine that found that Tai Chi could retard bone loss among postmenopausal women. Bone mineral density was measured before and after the study period. “During the yearlong study, both groups [the Tai Chi group and the control group] experienced general bone loss, but the rate of bone loss was less in the Tai Chi group; compared to women in the control group, there was a significant 2.6- to 3.6-fold retardation in bone loss among women who did Tai Chi.”


In addition to all the other benefits of Tai Chi already cited, The Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Institute includes the reduction of high blood pressure. Under the heading “Tai Chi exercises are effective in relieving pain, improving flexibility, strength, and sleep quality, and reducing fatigue, stress, and the risk of falls in some [cancer] patients,” the following appears: “Tai Chi practice improves physical functioning in many ways, including improved strength, stamina, muscle tone, agility, flexibility, and sleep quality. Tai Chi can also help to reduce stress, pain, and risk of falls, slow bone loss and reduce high blood pressure. And columnist, Jane Brody, has written that, “There is no question that Tai Chi can reduce stress.... If nothing else, this kind of relaxing activity can lower blood pressure and heart rate , improve cardiovascular fitness and enhance mood. For example, a review in 2008 found that tai chi lowered blood pressure in 22 of 26 published studies.”

A special thanks to Sifu Dimitri Mougdis and JC for the literature research and review, and JC for summarizing the findings and creating the written material for which this section is based.  JC is a student at Dimitri's Internal Arts Institute.

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