Tailored Tai Chi Training Outperformed Traditional Training in Balance and Muscle Strength Measures
By Chad Dupuis
Tagged in Internal Arts and Research
Tai chi is an effective form of exercise for overall health with volumes of studies in support of a range of benefits from avoiding falls to cardiovascular and immune health (see our section here). The training, however, can be difficult, particularly initially, for those with very decreased physical abilities and/or balance issues. There are, in fact, many modified and/or shortened versions of tai chi forms to help account for this, but in cases even more tailoring seems necessary.
Now in many cases people will be trying to learn tai chi from an instructor who can tailor the training to each individual. But what are the potential outcomes of that tailoring? According to a recent study, the overall health outcomes seem to be even stronger in a completely tailored version of tai chi than in more traditional (i.e. “whole form” training).
In the context of this study the tailored tai chi was functionally the creation of a set of movements from the standard tai chi form that they can do well and then repeating just those moves, or even just aspects of those moves, for the same duration of the complete whole form training. The researchers chose these moves by using a computer aided pressure platform to judge how far each participant can safely move in the various directions required within the tai chi form.
The trainings were provided three times per week over 8 weeks. The traditional training group was taught a 24 movement yang style tai chi form, the individualized group had everything tailored to them as described above, and a control group was created out of people who chose not to participate. The primary measures were the Berg Balance Scale (BBS), timed up-and-go (TUG) test, functional-reach test and measurements of lower-extremity muscle strength. These were conducted at the beginning of the study and after 8 weeks of training.
The researchers found “Significant improvements in all functional balance tests and strength assessments of 16 major lower-limb muscle groups in participants of the [individualized training] group compared to the control group, whereas only BBS and muscle strength of hips and ankles were improved in the tTC group. Practitioners of iTC outperformed tTC in BBS and strength of two major muscles.”
I decided to write about the study for two reasons. One being just another reminder of how valuable tai chi is for those metrics. But, two, to remind those that struggle with learning tai chi that even a few of the moves done in repetition over time will still yield benefits - or from this study possibly even stronger benefits than in those that can learn and perform the form more easily. So just do what you can and yield the benefits, perhaps less really is more… For those new to tai chi, some basic routines can be found on our youtube page.