4 Science-Backed Benefits Of Tai Chi For Parkinson’s Disease

Shruti Baikerikar

(B.E. Biotechnology, PG Clinical Research)
Independent Researcher, Health Writer & Founder of Salubrainous [Full Bio]

Tai chi for parkinson

Name: Tai chi, T’ai chi ch’üan, or Taijiquan
Number of scientific references: 30
Level of Evidence: Level III What is this?

Note: Regular Tai chi practice improves balance and gait and reduces falls in Parkinson’s disease patients. It can improve the therapeutic outcomes of anti-Parkinson’s medications.

It can protect mood and cognition. Tai chi can be utilized as an add-on therapy for Parkinson’s disease.

Tai chi is a form of ancient martial art that comprises a group of traditional Chinese exercises.

It comprises of exercises in the form of slow movements ordered in a sequence that focuses on improving attention, breathing, coordination and relaxation. [1]

They are characterized as mind-body exercises that keep the body fit but at the same time produce a calming effect on the mind. [2]

The meditative movements of Tai chi comprise an important part of the traditional Chinese medicine that is being introduced by researchers for its beneficial mental health effects worldwide.

Researchers are investigating the different mechanisms by which Tai chi affects the body and provides health benefits.

Tai chi helps in Parkinson’s disease by reducing falls, improving gait, balance and flexibility. It reduces non-motor symptoms such as cognitive decline, depression and anxiety.

Tai chi is an effective alternative therapy that can be used as an add-on to conventional Parkinson’s disease treatment.

4 Science-Backed Benefits of Tai chi for Parkinson’s Disease

Let us have a look at some of the benefits of Tai chi practice in Parkinson’s disease.

1. Tai chi improves balance and motor control in Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s is a severe neurodegenerative disease that can affect the neurons adversely resulting in complications like the inability to maintain body balance and to regulate movements.

An article published by professors from Harvard Medical School describes how new safe therapies are sprouting up every now and then for the effective treatment and prevention of Parkinson’s disease.

The article was written in support of the study performed by a group of researchers from the Oregon Research Institute.

They investigated the positive effects of Tai chi therapy on patients with disabled balance and motor control.

A twice weekly therapy of Tai chi strengthened the muscles and improved balance significantly reducing their risk of falls. It prevented a decline in motor control functions. [3]

Although resistance training and stretching are other alternative exercises often recommended to Parkinson’s patients, studies have proven that Tai chi produces better results.

In 2012 Li et al. compared the effects of Tai chi with resistance training and stretching on Parkinson’s disease. [4]

Participants in the Tai chi group showed better balance and motor control as compared to the resistance training and stretching exercise groups. They had a greater functional capacity and reduced risk to accidental falls.

Parkinson’s patients experience backaches as a result of poor posture.

Tai chi comprises of exercises that focus on maintaining the right posture and help manage back and neck aches.

A study published in The New England Journal Of Medicine, 2012 showed that 24 weeks regular Tai chi practice helps maintain a good posture in middle-aged and elderly patients with Parkinson’s disease. [5]

Observations during the 6 month training period showed that the therapy lowered incidence of falls in the patients.

Researchers have found better results in improved balance and motor control when Tai chi was provided as an add-on to medication therapy in Parkinson’s disease.

A review study published in PloS One, 2014 described how Tai chi in addition to medications for Parkinson’s disease helps reduce falls and improves balance and mobility at a much faster pace than medications alone. [6]

The researchers also mentioned that Tai chi can be beneficial for preventing such symptoms at an early stage itself.

Tai chi targets physical and functional impairments in Parkinson’s disease patients. Studies reveal that Tai chi is an effective alternative treatment for enhancing balance, flexibility, muscle strength, stable posture and improving body alignment.

Researchers have also reported that Parkinson’s disease patients find these exercises appropriate, enjoyable and intend to continue practising it. [7]

Quick Gist: Tai chi is proven to be an effective and safe therapy for improving balance and motor control in Parkinson disease patients. Its practice on a regular basis helps reduce the risk of falls and accidental injuries.

Tai chi in addition to conventional therapy for Parkinson’s disease produces faster positive results for prevention and treatment.

2.Tai chi can help reduce non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

We have discussed the motor symptoms that affect patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Symptoms like mood disorders including depression, anxiety, hallucinations, cognitive changes like impaired attention and memory loss all form the non-motor symptoms.

Apart from tremor reduction, prevention of falls and enhanced motor control, Tai chi is also found to reduce cognitive decline in Parkinson’s disease patients. [8]

In a study published by the Journal of Yoga and Physical Therapy, 2014, Tai chi training was found to be effective in alleviating the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease as well. [9]

Patients with compromised cognitive functioning practised 60 minute Tai chi sessions twice in a week.

The patients showed improved processing speed, memory, attention, ability to switch tasks and concentrate on specific tasks as compared to those patients who did not practice the exercise.

Wang and colleagues have reported Tai chi can improve the quality of life of Parkinson’s disease patients by reducing stress, anxiety, depression, disturbances in mood and increased self-esteem. [10]

Similarly, Choi et al. also observed that 12-week Tai chi practice improved mood and behaviour in patients with idiopathic Parkinson’s disease (stages 1-2), apart from improving agility and balance. [11]

The ancient martial art practice also has the potential to improve cognition in the elderly.

Individuals experiencing impaired cognition show positive results after Tai chi therapy as compared to those patients who did not practice it. [12]

Stress and depression worsen symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. However, depression could also occur as a result of the motor symptoms which affect the quality of life adversely.

A review published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine revealed that people practising Tai chi show reduced depressive symptoms over time and this makes it a potential therapy for depressive symptoms. [13]

The relaxing poses of Tai chi lower anxiety in healthy individuals and improve cognition and alertness. [14]

Quick Gist: Tai chi practice can improve non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Long-term practice is associated with better mood, improved cognition and increased self-esteem in patients.

3.It can reduce systemic oxidative stress and inflammation

Increased oxidative stress and inflammation accelerate degeneration of brain cells in conditions like Parkinson’s disease.

Tai chi is known to mitigate cellular inflammation.

An experimental trial conducted on older adults showed that practising Tai chi for 16 weeks on a regular basis helped reduce inflammatory mediator, interleukin in the blood. [15]

Researchers have also put forth the idea that better sleep and Tai chi improve health by reducing inflammation at a faster pace. [16]

Various scientific findings indicate that practising mind-body therapies like Tai chi helps reduce inflammatory responses thereby improving behavioural and psychological health.

These therapies reduce circulatory levels of inflammatory mediators, decrease expression of genes regulating inflammation and prevent signalling of inflammatory factors. [17]

Oxidative stress caused by excessive free oxygen radicals that accelerate the process of ageing damages neurons in the brain and is involved in the pathogenesis of medical conditions like atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes and cancer.

Physical exercise tremendously influences oxidative stress levels.

According to a study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, the weekly practice of Tai chi on a regular basis helps fight oxidative stress and damage in healthy individuals. [18]

Many individuals prefer walking more than those intensive training exercises.

A study evaluating the effects of both walking and Tai chi in protecting cells from oxidative damage was published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2013. [19]

According to the results, older adults practising Tai chi showed greater levels of antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase when compared to the levels of the same enzyme in the walking group.

Quick Gist: Oxidative damage and inflammation to brain cells risks their survival and renders them susceptible to damage and loss.

Studies in healthy individuals have demonstrated that Tai chi training helps prevent damage caused by both oxidation and inflammation by targeting various pathways and mechanisms directly.

4.Long-term Tai chi practice can protect brain health and prevent Parkinson’s disease

It is interesting how all the postures in Tai chi, which are so gentle and slow are interconnected and hold some interesting health benefits.

The exercises are not only beneficial but enjoyable as well and that is a big plus point of the therapy.

Osipiyuk and colleagues have reported that there exists a bi-directional relationship between Tai chi posture and mental states and they help shape our mood. [20]

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to undergo structural and functional changes as we age. In simpler terms, it is the ability of the brain to rewire itself.

Regular exercise enhances neuroplasticity by regulating circuits that connect neurons and neural connections that influence the pace of nerve impulse signalling. [21]

Brain-Derived Neurotrophic factors are proteins that control the growth and development of nerve cells. These proteins are vital for facilitating neuroplasticity.

Just like other forms of exercise, Tai chi may also support neuroplasticity.

A study published in Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, 2018 revealed that Tai chi increases BDNF levels and improves memory in elderly individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment. [22]

Lam and colleagues have also observed that a one year therapy of Tai chi for older adults at a risk of cognitive decline improves their motor functioning, cognitive ability and coordination. [23]

Tai chi practised for over a period of one year may have an added advantage of cognition enhancement and better memory over Western exercise for the elderly. [24]

Neuroprotective agents or agents that protect brain health are an essential aid for prevention and treatment of neurological disorders.

A review article published in Frontiers of Aging Neuroscience, 2017 described how physical activity and exercise can reduce the risk of impairment in motor functions and prevent the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. [25]

Researchers from the University of South California have highlighted that regular exercise changes the brain activities helping the endangered neurons release dopamine effectively thereby sending appropriate signals to the brain. [26]

Since Tai chi is a mind-body therapy and involves exercise and physical activity is could potentially serve as a neuroprotective mechanism and reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

Tai chi participants show improved mobility, balance and motor functions. [27]

It also reduces the risk of falls in elderly individuals without Parkinson’s disease and improves limb strength. [28]

Older Tai chi practitioners, who have practised the martial art technique for a long time, experience such significant improvement in balance, mobility and posture that they are able to divert their attention to cognitive tasks while engaging in a balance or movement related task. [29] [30]

In fact, they use the same strategies as younger individuals and perform as well as them.

Researchers state that regular Tai chi practice can counteract the age-related decline in dual tasking.

Quick Gist: Long-term Tai chi practice is associated with better mood, lower depression and anxiety and improved cognition and memory.

It also helps reduce the risk of motor impairment and improves muscle strength in elderly individuals. Regular Tai chi practice can offset the age-related decline in physical strength, mobility and cognition and reduce the risk of neurological disorders.

Precautions with Tai chi For Parkinson’s Disease

Tai chi is a gentle exercise with relatively low risks. Please consult a qualified Tai chi expert before initiating practice.

Avoid practising Tai chi immediately after consuming food. Wear light, loose comfortable clothes for the exercise.

Unguided exercise may worsen mental health symptoms. You can explore this detailed guide on precautionary measures while performing Tai chi.

It is advisable to use Tai chi as an add-on therapy and consult a qualified teacher about the same.

Conclusion

Tai chi practice is found to lower motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

It helps improve gait, mobility, flexibility and strength and reduces the risk of falls in patients with stage 1-2 Parkinson’s disease.

The slow and gentle movements of Tai chi make it conducive for a patient to practice the exercise without anticipation of fear of falling.

It also improves memory and cognition and improves mood. Patients practising this ancient martial art technique find it quite enjoyable and are willing to practice it for a longer period.

One important point to note is that to observe positive results one needs to engage in Tai chi practice on a regular basis and continue practising it for a long period.

Tai chi can be an effective alternative treatment or rather an add-on therapy for Parkinson’s disease along with conventional medical therapy.

Know the proven benefits of Tai chi for Parkinson's disease treatment and prevention.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.