Summer 2012

Moving with Parkinson’s

The ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi improves balance and lowers the risk of falls

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The ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi improved balance and lowered the risk of falls in a study of patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Symptoms of the brain disorder include tremors and stiff, jerky movements that can affect walking and other common motions. Medication and surgery can help, and doctors often recommend exercise or physical therapy as well. With its slow, graceful movements, tai chi has been shown to improve strength and stability in older people.

In the latest study, conducted at the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene, the benefits of tai chi were tested among 195 patients with mild to moderate Parkinson’s. Subjects attended twice-weekly classes devoted to tai chi or two other kinds of exercise—either stretching or resistance training, which included steps and lunges with ankle weights and a weighted vest. The tai chi routine was tailored for the Parkinson’s patients, with an emphasis on swing-and-sway motions and weight-shifting.

Chenchen Wang, who heads the Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine at Tufts Medical Center and is studying the effects of tai chi on patients with arthritis and fibromyalgia, called the results “dramatic and impressive.” One of the study’s strengths, she said, is that researchers could measure results directly instead of relying on the patients’ reports.

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