Recent studies conducted by Fushong Li of the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene, Oregon have determined that the ancient Chinese practice of tai chi can a positive impact on those afflicted with Parkinson’s disease (PD).
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological condition that usually afflicts people from age 50 and up. But younger cases do occur, the most famous being actor Michael J. Fox. PD affects around one million in the United States. As is the case with other neurological disorders, its rate is increasing. An estimated 60,000 new cases of PD are diagnosed annually.
Tremors of the hands, slight head oscillations, muffled speech, and lack of facial expression changes or frozen face are common symptoms of PD.If you’ve ever seen interviews or other visuals of Muhammad Ali after his retirement from boxing, you will have witnessed some of Parkinson’s main manifestations.
PD is considered incurable by mainstream medicine, but if detected early enough it is said to be manageable with drugs. We all know, however, that these drugs are not without major drawbacks and have many side effects.
Tai chi was tested for other aspects of PD, such as posture problems, problems with gait, and balance issues. Gait and balance issues have caused many unpredictable and often dangerous falls for elderly and brittle PD victims. This is the area where tai chi showed clear improvement.
Tai chi itself demands slow, gentle movements, shifting balance and weight while standing. It requires focused awareness while maintaining posture and balance. This alone seems to challenge what a PD patient is capable of. Tai chi can be a challenge for someone who is moderately awkward or clumsy, though the Oregon tests were conducted using “tailor made” tai chi exercises.
Since PD impairs dopamine production in the brain, leading to motor control issues, it’s speculated that the exercises practiced over time train the brain to restore the dopamine production or compensate for its lack thereof.
Tai chi for Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and depression
The Oregon Research Institute study recruited 195 people with mild to moderate PD. They were divided into three groups that used three different exercise methods: resistance exercise (weight training), stretching, and tai chi were practiced by each group for six months, with the study being funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine on February 9th, 2012.
Each group was supervised with two 60 minute exercise sessions per week. Tai chi came out with the most positive results, especially by improving common functional abilities. The resistance training showed some balance improvement with decreased falls as well.
Earlier tai chi studies have shown decreased pain and insomnia for patients with fibromyalgia and arthritis. Elderly folks suffering from chronic depression also showed improvement using tai chi as a daily practice.
Many communities throughout the USA have tai chi group sessions.
If you or someone you know are sensing any early warning signals for PD, it may be wise to look into one of these groups.
Sources for this article include
- Can Tai Chi Boost Your Health Through Epigenetics?
- Common Sense Approach Best to Maintain Healthy Body Weight in Children
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