Today, Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Benefits of Tai Chi For Stroke Victims

Tai Chi is a 600-year-old Chinese martial art that seeks to integrate the body, mind and soul through slow, flowing movements and postures.  In theory these slow, fluid moves, in addition to working muscles, help to focus concentration, resulting in a greater flow of “chi” energy.  “Chi,” which is also spelled “qi,” is thought to be the vital life energy that promotes calmness of mind and body as well as good health. 

Benefits of Tai Chi
Tai Chi is well known for helping people maintain balance as they grow older.  However, avid tai chi practitioners cite a whole host of other benefits.  Those include better breathing, better organ function, increased stamina, lower blood pressure and greater bone density, just to name a few.

All of this, in fact, may not be nearly as far-fetched as it sounds.  In fact, in recent years modern science has begun to back up many of the ancient claims regarding the benefits of tai chi. 

Tai Chi for Stroke Victims
A recent study performed by Professor Christina Hui-Chan, head of physical therapy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, shows that tai chi can be very helpful in helping people recover from strokes.  Knowing that tai chi aids in balance, this is perhaps not entirely surprising.

People who have had strokes often suffer damage to the parts of the brain that help in maintaining balance.  Not all, but some people have difficulty learning to walk again.  Many people who suffer these problems with balance are more prone to falling and injuring themselves.

The new study compared two groups of people who’d suffered strokes six months or more prior to the start of the study.  The first group had regular sessions of tai chi. The other group did exercise therapy.  Participants in both groups had 12, hour-long weekly sessions and were encouraged to spend another three hours a week practicing at home on their own.

Immediately at the end of the session and again one month later, the tai chi group showed better results in tests done of their balance while standing.  People in the tai chi group were better able to shift their weight, lean forwards, backwards and from side to side.  In addition they were better able to stay balanced on a moving surface with their eyes open or closed.  The control group showed little improvement in any of the tests.

In another test, which measured speed of mobility, neither group showed much improvement.  Past studies, also conducted by Professor Hui-Chan, have shown that older people benefit from tai chi by way of increased balance and coordination.

Simplified Tai Chi for Stroke Victims
The tai chi forms used in the study were simple and of the same sort often used to treat arthritis patients.  The group learned a simplified form of the martial art that consisted of coordinated movements of the head, trunk and limbs that demanded concentration and attention to balance.  Most of the participants who’d suffered strokes were able to learn the tai chi forms in as little as eight weeks.  

The exercise only group practiced activities such as breathing, walking, stretching, sitting exercises and random tasks related to memorization and reasoning.  

In comparing the two groups Professor Hui-Chan said, “The tai chi group did particularly better in conditions that required them to use their balance control.  In only six weeks, we saw significant improvements.  The ability to shift your weight is very important because all reaching tasks require it.”

The results of Professor Hui-Chan’s research are set to be published in an upcoming issue of Neurohabilitation and Neural Repair.

Tai Chi for Stroke Victims and Seniors
Stroke survivors are faced with many lingering challenges.  The loss of balance is potentially a very serious after affect of a stroke.  Not just because of the annoyance and uncomfortable feeling that interfere with quality of life.  Far more seriously, it can raise the risk for a debilitating or possibly fatal fall to occur.  

However, beyond the benefit of helping to maintain balance, tai chi can benefit stroke victims and other seniors in a myriad of ways.  As explained by Professor Hui-Chan, tai chi can also improve strength and cardiovascular fitness.  Also, taking tai chi classes can provide many seniors with healthy group interactions and help prevent social isolation in the process.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has also shown interest in the benefits of tai chi. Currently, the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is sponsoring studies to find out more about the effects of tai chi, how it works and what diseases and conditions it may be most helpfully used against.

Certainly, exercise on it’s own has benefits in regard to strength and coordination.  Tai chi for stroke victims, however, appears to outperform the exercise-only approach significantly.  This is especially true when it comes to balance and coordination.  

While Professor Hui-Chan’s study only looked at 136 people, it appears to have been well carried out.  Although the people in the tai chi group were slightly younger than those in the control group, the researchers adjusted their findings to reflect this.  Both groups registered similar baseline test results.  In the short term, the results of Professor Hui-Chan’s study look to be fairly reliable.  Whether the results will carry over in the long-term, or whether tai chi actually will prevent people from falling and injuring themselves, remains to be seen.

The Future of Stroke Therapy?
For those who have had a stroke and now have problems with balance, this is a particularly interesting study.  The improvements lasted the four weeks from the end of the study until the final test.  Whether they lasted after that is unknown.  Possibly it would depend on whether or not the people continued on in their tai chi practice.  

The tai chi practiced in Professor Hui-Chan’s study was of a modified variety, used primarily to help those with arthritis.  Anyone considering tai chi for stroke rehabilitation should speak to an instructor and find out what sort of tai chi regimen is appropriate.  Also, it is advisable to have someone accompany you in the training to provide some extra support.

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