Tai chi helps ease Parkinson symptoms

Tai chi helps ease Parkinson symptoms

NEW YORK - The Associated Press
Tai chi helps ease Parkinson symptoms

People participate in a tai chi class at an institute in Eugene, Ore. AP photo

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

Symptoms of the brain disorder include tremors and stiff, jerky movements that can affect walking and other activities. Medications and surgery can help, and doctors often recommend exercise or physical therapy. Tai chi (ty-CHEE’), with its slow, graceful movements, has been shown to improve strength and aid stability in older people, and has been studied for a number of ailments.

In the latest study, led by Fuzhong Li of the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene, tai chi was tested in 195 people with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s. The participants attended twice-weekly group classes of either tai chi or two other kinds of exercise, stretching and resistance training, which included steps and lunges with ankle weights and a weighted vest.

’Swing and sway’

The tai chi routine was tailored for the Parkinson’s patients, with a focus on “swing and sway” motions and weight-shifting, said Li, who practices tai chi and teaches instructors. After six months of classes, the tai chi group did significantly better than the stretching group in tests of balance, control, walking and other measures.
Compared with resistance training, the tai chi group did better in balance, control and stride, and about the same in other tests. Tai chi training was better than stretching in reducing falls, and as effective as resistance training, the researchers reported.

The improvements in the tai chi group continued during three months of follow-up. Li said the study showed tai chi was safe. It’s easy to learn, and there’s no special equipment, he added.

“People are looking for alternative programs, and this could be one of them,” he said. Estimates vary, but at least 500,000 people in the United States have Parkinson’s.