Taiji & qigong improve balance
The Chinese have understood the importance of internal exercise for thousands of years, but now these yangsheng (health preservation) movements have jumped through the hoops of western empirical research to prove their worth
More than 37 million people in the world suffer some kind of serious fall every year. Being able to balance requires a coordination of many different things. We need to be able to sense where our body is (proprioception), using vision, sensors in muscles, tendons, joints, pressure on the soles of our feet - and it all has to be coordinated by the brain via the inner ear. Risk factors include being overweight and lack exercise, prescription drugs, medical conditions (neurological and cardiac illnesses) and age.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory “Kidney jing (essence) produces marrow and "marrow is connected with the brain” and “The Kidney opens into the Ear”(1). Kidney jing declines with age, whilst qigong is considered to be the only way to replenish Kidney jing.
Common medications including non steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain such as ibuprofen or aspirin, antihistamines for allergies and hay fever, as well as sedatives, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs and medicines for high blood pressure and heart disease can disrupt our sense of balance.
A new study investigated the benefits of a Tai Chi training in 32 MS patients who participated in 90 minutes of Tai chi, twice a week, for six months. Results showed that the Tai chi group had improvements in balance and coordination, lower levels of depression and increased life satisfaction compared to the control group that continued to receive only normal treatments.(2)
A recent meta analysis published in the PLoS One medical journal concludes that integrating traditional Chinese Medical Exercise into the treatment plan for Parkinson's disease improves motor function and balance.(3)
A study in 2015 showed that one hour sessions of Tai chi, three times a week, for sixteen weeks, improved postural control and helped prevent falls in a group of elderly people. Another study analysed 7 randomized controls, totalling 1088 patients. The patients were tested for the speed of 'get up and go', single leg stand test and the Berg balance test. The analysis concludes that taiji improved balance control ability, and flexibility in elderly adults.(4)
Finally, when compared to simple exercise programmes (Otago and Stepping On) practicing taiji has been shown to be the most cost-effective in terms of the amount of investment required against the savings in medical costs.(5)
1) Ilza Veith (2002) The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine
2) Burschka et al. (2014) Mindfulness-based interventions in multiple sclerosis: beneficial effects of Tai Chi on balance, coordination, fatigue and depression. BMC Neurology, 14.
3) Yang et al. (2015) The efficacy of traditional Chinese Medical Exercise for Parkinson's disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One 10(4).
4) Huang Y1, Liu X.(2015) Improvement of balance control ability and flexibility in the elderly Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) practitioners: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arch Gerontol Geriatr 60(2)
5) Carandle-Kulis et al. (2015) A cost benefit analysis of three older adult fall prevention interventions. Journal of Safety Research 52