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Tai Chi May Ease Burden of Chronic Diseases Health Benefits of Chinese Martial Not Clearly Understood

March 8, 2004 Practicing the traditional Chinese martial art of tai chi appears to offer both mental & physical benefits for people with chronic diseases, but researchers aren't exactly sure what those benefits are.

A new review of studies on tai chi shows that the practice is safe & probably beneficial for older adults w/conditions such as heart failure, high blood pressure, arthritis & multiple sclerosis. It may also offer psychological benefits in reducing stress & anxiety in healthy people.

But researchers say the lack of rigorous scientific studies on the subject makes it difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the long-term risks or health benefits of practicing tai chi.

Tai chi combines deep breathing & relaxation with postures that move smoothly from one to the other in slow, gentle movements.

Researchers say it has been promoted for good health, memory concentration, digestion, balance & flexibility. It's also thought to improve mental problems such as anxiety, depression & age-related declines in mental function.

"However, despite its popularity, the biological mechanism & clinical effects of tai chi aren't well understood, write researcher Chenchen Wang, MD, MSc, of Tufts-New England Medical Ctr. in Boston & colleagues.

Health Benefits of Tai Chi Unclear

For the study, published in the March 8 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed 47 English & Chinese -language studies on the effects of tai chi in people with chronic health problems.

These studies reported health benefits including improvements in balance & strength, cardiovascular & respiratory function, flexibility, immune function & symptoms of arthritis.

Psychological benefits in reducing stress & anxiety were also reported.

But only 9 of the studies reviewed were randomized & controlled, which is the highest standard for scientific research, & all of them were short-term.

"Therefore, the long-term effects of tai chi practice are still unknown & there is insufficient information to recommend Tai Chi to patients w/chronic conditions," conclude the researchers.

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