Tai chi can help older patients with disabling conditions

Denis Campbell, Health policy editor - Guardian

GPs should prescribe sessions of Chinese exercises, study says, after finding it helps patients with breathing problems, osteoarthritis and heart disease.

Tai chi can relieve some of the most crippling symptoms of disabling conditions such as osteoarthritis, heart disease and chronic breathing problems in older people, a study shows.

The ancient Chinese system of callisthenics, which combines slow movements with deep breathing exercises, led to improvement in the physical function and muscle strength of people in their mid-50s to their mid-70s with those ailments or breast cancer.

The findings should encourage health professionals to prescribe tai chi for patients with osteoarthritis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), the Canadian authors say in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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“The results demonstrated a favourable effect or tendency of tai chi to improve physical performance and showed that this type of exercise could be performed by individuals with different chronic conditions, including COPD, heart failure and osteoarthritis”, the authors say.

They analysed of 33 previous studies of evidence relating to the effectiveness of tai chi, involving data from 1,584 people. Taken together they “showed that tai chi improved or showed a tendency to improve physical performance outcomes, including six-minute walking distance and knee extensor strength, in most or all four chronic conditions.”

The exercises also led to less pain and stiffness among osteoarthritis sufferers.

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