Seniors taking Tai Chi classes reported better physical functioning both at the three-month midpoint and the six-month end of the pilot study, says Fuzhong Li, Ph.D., of the Oregon Research Institute, and colleagues.
The study included 72 people between the ages of 65 and 96 who were split into a group that went to an hour-long class twice a week for six months and a control group that was promised a four-week class at the end of the study.
"We found significant improvements within three months on a low-intensity program conducted twice a week. Our results also showed improved benefits from six months of participation, suggesting that additional health gains can be derived from a longer period of participation," the researchers say.
The study is published in the May issue of the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
They contrast this with previous research on exercise programs that suggests much longer periods are needed to show significant improvements in functioning.
On completion of the study, the Tai Chi students were also twice as likely as the control group to report not being limited in their ability to perform moderate-to-vigorous activities.
In comparison to previous research, which shows that half of sedentary people are unable to maintain a newly adopted exercise program, these findings were also unique in that only 18 percent of participants dropped out of the Tai Chi class. The researchers suggest Tai Chi may offer a particularly attractive form of fitness activity for this population. Members of the classes described the lessons as a positive experience with wide ranging benefits that both energized and relaxed them. They felt it had helped them build better flexibility, balance and strength.
The researchers did note that since the study recruited volunteers for the study, the participants may have been more motivated than other sedentary elderly people to exercise.
The study cost approximately $9,000.
Through grants from the National Institute on Aging, the researchers are continuing their examination of the effects of Tai Chi on seniors' health outcomes, such as falls, physical ability and long-term health behaviors.
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Contact: Fuzhong Li, Ph.D. (541) 484-2123 (ext. 2137)
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