Blogging with Parkinson's

A personal perspective on Young Onset Parkinson's

Tai Chi comes out tops as Parkie Exercise

2 Comments

Yang Chengfu, modern master of Tai Chi

Further to my former post on the subject of tai chi as therapy for Parkinson’s, I see that there are reports of exercise regimes based on the martial art being the best (of those compared) for Parkinson’s patients.

A Statement issued by the American PDF (Parkinson’s Disease Foundation) on the subject of “Tai Chi and Balance Problems in Parkinson’s” cites research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In this study, three exercise regimes were compared:

  • stretching
  • resistance training for strength building
  • Tai Chi

The PDF statement reports:

At the end of the six months, the Tai Chi exercises showed superior balance compared to the other two groups.  Even three months after the program ended, these findings persisted.  The number of falls was reduced in both the Tai Chi and resistance exercisers compared to those doing stretching.

And goes on to add an opinion:

Dr. Christopher Goetz, Chair of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF) Medical Policy Committee and member of PDF’s Scientific Advisory Board comments:

“Whereas exercise and physical therapy are well accepted to be beneficial to people with Parkinson’s disease, it has been unclear whether one form of exercise is superior to others.  This report, specifically focused on balance, is encouraging, because it directs clinicians and people with Parkinson’s to advocate Tai Chi for those individuals with balance deficits. […]”

It seems that Tai Chi is a good exercise regime for people with Parkinson’s. However, as Goetz notes, it is sufficiently “rigorous” to require professional supervision, particularly for people with balance problems.

However, while I do not question the validity of the research, I do have some qualms. First, it seems, from the title of the paper (“Tai Chi and Postural Stability in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease”), that the researchers may have had a special interest in Tai Chi as a therapy for Parkinson’s. Secondly, they only tested it against two other regimes, which is hardly exhaustive. I cannot tell, from the freely available material, precisely what was entailed in each regime, or how they were selected. It is possible that the two alternative regimes were established physiotherapy regimes already in use for Parkinson’s; it is equally possible that they were not.

From the PDF’s statement, it appears that the exercises were specially selected:

Because the focus of the study was on balance improvement, these exercises focused specifically on movements that taxed balance and gait with symmetric and diagonal movements.

This implies that attending a “standard” Tai Chi class may not be sufficient to obtain the improvements noted in the study.

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2 thoughts on “Tai Chi comes out tops as Parkie Exercise

  1. Since tai chi classes vary from place to place, and with vary different focus for the training, based on the target audience. This has been the problem in getting mainstream recognition for tai chi as a therapy, or adjunct. Much of the tai chi out there is simply based on a franchise scheme owned by a “big name”. The tai chi protocol in this study, has been used successfully in other studies because it is a protocol, not just an ala cart series of weekly classes. The regimen is simple easily disseminated from teacher to teacher, and applied in the manner that delivered the study’s outcome. This tai chi is establishing a usable standard, based on scientific evidence.

  2. I suspected that there might be a lot of variation between classes. Most, I am sure, would be entirely unsuitable for the more… advanced Parkie. But it may be possible that a mainstream class may suit a newly diagnosed Parkie.

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