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Taiji research




“Investigate in detail what the ultimate purpose is: to extend the years and achieve a never-ending youthfulness.”

– Song of the Thirteen Postures




Medical research on Tai Chi

The text here is extracted from a report created from a collaboration by: Tricia Yu, T'ai Chi Center Madison, Wisconsin USA; Jill Johnson, PT Physical Therapy, Thomas M. Krapu, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist T'ai Chi Ch'uan Instructor Saint Louis, Missouri USA


Summary: Current research indicates that T'ai Chi Ch'uan is a weight bearing and moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise. Practice of T'ai-Chi Ch'uan can improve balance, reduce falls and increase leg strength. It also lowers stress hormones, enhances respiratory and immune function and promotes emotional well-being.


Tai Chi Improves Lung Function In Older People By Jacqueline Stenson c.1995 Medical Tribune News Service:

Practicing a Chinese martial art may help some elderly people stave off age-related breathing problems, a new report shows. In a study of 84 people whose average age was 64, those who practiced tai chi regularly over two years had less of a decline in lung function than those who were more sedentary. Tests given before and after the study showed that the sedentary men and women experienced more than twice the decline in the amount of oxygen they could take into their lungs, compared to those who practiced tai chi. The tai chi group also had greater spinal flexibility and less body fat than their sedentary counterparts, according to the study, published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

As people age, they experience a natural decline in their lung capacity. While many experts believe endurance training can slow this decline, many exercises are considered too taxing for older people, the researchers said, because these people often suffer other types of disability that preclude strenuous exercise. Tai chi, also known as shadow boxing, is an ancient discipline that uses graceful movements, deep breathing and mental concentration to achieve mind-body harmony, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Jin-Shin Lai of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei.

The deep-breathing component of tai chi may explain why those who practiced the activity maintained better lung function than those who did not, according to David Anderson, a registered nurse and certified tai chi instructor in Indianapolis. "Tai chi emphasizes deep abdominal breathing, which uses more of your lungs than usual chest breathing," Anderson said. Tai chi also increases a person's heart rate, and therefore helps improve overall heart and lung health, he said. Because tai chi is a low-impact activity, it is a good exercise for older people who may have joint degeneration and other physical problems, the Indiana expert said. "It's not outwardly strenuous like aerobics is," Anderson said. "And it's cheap - you don't need $100 shoes. You only need 10 square feet of empty floor space."

The Arthritis Foundation recommends tai chi for people with arthritis, many of whom cannot tolerate the jarring effects of other types of exercise. The range-of-motion exercises involved in tai chi benefit arthritis sufferers by helping them keep their joints flexible and reduce stiffness, according to the arthritis group. In the study, people in the tai chi group practiced the discipline about five times a week. These people had been doing tai chi an average of seven years prior to the study. Each exercise session consisted of 20 minutes of warm-up (including stretching exercises, calisthenics and balance training), 24 minutes of tai chi training and 10 minutes of cool-down.


Brown DD, Mucci WG, Hetzler RK, Knowlton RG. Cardiovascular and ventilatory responses during formalized T'ai Chi Chuan exercise. Research Quarterly for Exercise & Sport. 1989;60:246-250.

T'ai Chi chuan (TCC) is a widely practiced Chinese martial art said to physically develop balance and coordination as well as enhance emotional and mental health. TCC consists of a series of postures combined into a sequential movement providing a smooth, continuous, low-intensity a ctivity. The purpose of this study was to examine the ventilatory and cardiovascular responses to the Long Form of Yang's style TCC. In addition, the subjects' TCC responses were compared to their ventilatory and cardiovascular responses during cycle ergometry at an oxygen consumption (VO2) equivalent to the mean TCC V02.

Six experienced (M = 8.3 yrs) male TCC practitioners served as subjects with data collected during the Cloud H and movement of the TCC exercis-e. Significantly (p less than .05) lower responses for ventilatory frequency (Vf) (11.3 and 15.7 breaths.min-1), ventilatory equivalent (VE/VO2) (23.47 and 27.41), and the ratio of dead space ventilation to tidal volume (VD/VT) (20 and 270c) were found in TCC in comparison to cycle ergometry. The percentage of minute ventilation used for alveolar ventilation was significantly higher during TCC (p less than .03) than cycle ergometry, with mean values of 81.lt and 73.lt respectively. Cardiac output, stroke volume, and heart rate were not significantly different between TCC exercise and cycle ergometry at the same oxygen consumption. We concluded -that, during TCC, expert practitioners show significantly different ventilatory-responses leading to more efficient use of the ventilatory'volume than would be expected from comparable levels of exertion on a cycle ergometer.


Jin P. Changes in heart rate, noradrenaline, cortisol and mood during T'ai Chi. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 1989;33:197-206.

Changes in psychological and physiological functioning following participation in Tai Chi were assessed for 33 beginners and 33 practitioners. The variables in the three-way factorial design were experience (beginners vs practitioners) , time (morning vs afternoon vs evening), and phase (before Tai Chi vs during Tai Chi vs after Tai Chi) . Phase was a repeated measures variable. Relative to measures taken beforehand, practice of Tai Chi raised heart rate, increased noradrenaline-excretion in urine, and decreased salivary cortisol concentration. Relative to baseline levels, subjects reported less tensioh, depression, anger, fatigue, confusion and state-anxiety, they felt more vigorous, and in -general they had less total mood disturbance.

The data suggest that Tai Chi results in gains that are comparable to those found with moderate exercise. There is need for research concerned with whether participation in Tai Chi has effects over and above those associated with physical exercise.


Lai JS, Wong N4K, Lan C, Chong CK, Lien IN. Cardiorespiratory responses of t'ai chi Ch'uan practitioners and sedentary subjects during cycle ergometry. J Formosan Med Assoc. 1993;92:894-899.

Tai Chi Chuan (TCC; shadow boxing) is a traditional Chinese conditioning exercise. To evaluate its beneficial effect on cardiorespiratory function, 21 male and 20 female TCC practitioners, ranging in age from 50 to 64 years, voluntarily participated in this study. The control group comprised 23 male and 26 female sedentary subjects. Breath-by-breath measurement of the cardiorespiratory function was obtained during the incremental exercise of leg cycling.

At the maximal exercise level, the oxygen uptake (VO2), O2pulse and work rate of the TCC group were significantly higher than the respective values of the control group (p < 0.01). At the ventilatory threshold, the TCC group also showed a higher VO2, O2 pulse and work rate (p < 0.05). The results imply that TCC training may be beneficial to the cardiorespiratory function of older individuals. To estimate the exercise intensity of TCC, heart rate (HR) was monitored in 15 men and 15 women while they performed the classical Yang TCC. During the steady-state performance of TCC, the mean HR was 130 +/- 14 bpm for men and 127 +/- 13bpm for women. The mean HR during TCC exceeded 70% of their HRmax. Our data substantiate that TCC is aerobic exercise of moderate intensity, and it maybe prescribed as a suitable conditioning exercise for the elderly.Lai JS Wong MK Lan C Chong CK Lien IN Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei, R.O.C.1993 960823Medlars UID 94198625


Sun, W.Y. Impact of a Tai Chi Chuan Program on the Health of Among Older Adults. Student Monograph. 12(1):73-80, July 1994.

Abstract (AB): Researchers investigated the effects of a Tai Chi Chuan fitness program on older adults who emigrated to the United States from refugee camps in Thailand. Researchers divided 40 Hmong adults over age 59 between a 20-member experimental group (8 males and 12 females) and a 20-member control group (6 males and 14 females). The experimental group participated in a Tai Chi Chuan program once a week for 12 consecutive weeks, including a pretest week and a posttest week. The program consisted of 10 2-hour sessions, which covered information about human physiology and common related diseases in older adults, emotional and mental health, and stress management.

The sessions reviewed the Tai Chi Chuan movements from the previous week, taught new movements, and assigned exercises to practice for the next meeting. The control group continued its routine physical activities. Researchers compared pretest and posttest scores on (1) Tai Chi Chuan knowledge and attitudes, (2) behavior, (3) general well-being, (4) resting heart rate, (5) resting blood pressure, (6) stress level, and (7) joint flexibility. No significant differences existed between the groups at pretest. At posttest, experimental group subjects had (1) improved their knowledge and attitudes regarding Tai Chi Chuan, (2) exhibited more exercise behavior, (3) decreased their resting blood pressure, (4) improved their stress management skills, (5) felt more relaxed, and (6) improved their joint flexibility. 2 tables, 15 references

(Reuters Health) - The slow, controlled motions of tai chi can help the impaired balance of people with mild or moderate Parkinson's disease, and the improvements persist for at least three months.

Compared with people who received stretching exercises, tai chi practitioners had fewer falls, longer strides and better balance, researchers found.

"Tai chi fits very well to address the problem Parkinson's disease patients face," said Fuzhong Li of the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene, whose findings appear in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Difficulty walking and remaining standing are hallmarks of Parkinson's, which results from the death of brain cells that generate the chemical dopamine.

"We're not going to get rid of the symptoms. It's not a drug. It can't cure the disease. But, in my view, it can slow down the progression of the disease," Li told Reuters Health.

Although not all studies agree, other research has shown that because it is a balance-based exercise, tai chi may help improve strength and reduce falls in older adults. But there are few large studies in Parkinson's patients.

Li and his colleagues sent 195 seniors, all from Oregon, to one of three classes that met twice weekly for an hour. All could stand unaided, but some needed a device to help them walk.

The tai chi exercises were designed to improve balance with a controlled displacement of the center of mass. Resistance training with ankle weights and weighted vests was used in a second group to strengthen muscles important to posture, balance and gait. A third group had classes that involved gentle stretching.

People in all three groups started off with similar 64-point scores on a 100-point scale that measured how far they could lean or shift their center of gravity without falling.

But after 24 weeks of classes, those in the stretching group saw their average score drop by two points, indicating some deterioration in their condition.

The typical score rose by four points in the resistance group and by 10 points among the tai chi practitioners.

All of the volunteers were tested when their medication was working and their symptoms were controlled.

The improvement with tai chi was even more significant on a test to see how far the person could move toward a target without extraneous movement.

Stride length, walking velocity, knee movement and other measurements also showed more improvement. And people who did tai chi reported only 62 total falls during the training -- less than half of what the other groups reported.

Three months after the classes stopped, some of the benefits persisted. For instance, tai chi practitioners had 60 percent fewer falls than the resistance-training group and 69 percent fewer than the stretching group.

"This is the first time to my knowledge that a study was able to show some durability as a treatment for balance," Li said. "This was a big gap in a research field that didn't have any follow-up data with an exercise regimen."

There was, however, some slippage. The average score for leaning and shifting gravity, which had improved by 10 points in the tai chi practitioners, appeared to drop slightly.

The nice thing about tai chi, he said, is that "this is not equipment-dependent. It can be practiced at any place, at any time."

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