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Longer Term Benefits of Tai Chi for People Who Are Obese

Longer term Benefits of Tai Chi for People who are Obese

The World Health Organization has identified the top three factors that cause death worldwide as hypertension, smoking, and high cholesterol (hypercholesteremia).  

As we age, we experience a decrease in physiological and heart function, reduction in the elasticity of blood vessels, increased viscosity of blood, and a reduction of pulmonary capacity and function.  Arteries lose their elasticity and flexibility which results in increased resistance to blood flow with increased blood pressure, cardiac insufficiency and other cardiovascular diseases.

Obesity is a risk factor in heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses, and often finding the right type of exercise is difficult for the obese adult.

This study sought to review the long-term benefits of Tai Chi for the obese adult.  

The study took place between 2007 and 2012 and contained 120 adults with a mean age 65 with a mean weight of 94 kg.  The control and Tai chi groups each contained 60 people, who had been tested prior and showed no signs of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, other chronic illnesses.  

The key assessment indicators were: age, sex, height, weight, blood pressure (BP), waist circumference, hip circumference, and body mass index (BMI). In addition to these measures, periodic pulmonary evaluation of forced vital capacity, maximal oxygen uptake and cardiac index were measured.  

The re-evaluations were conducted every 3- 6 months over a period of six years.Each group received ongoing health education, and no change occurred in their lifestyle or environment during the study.  

The Tai Chi group started initially with health education, and practice at least three times per week, for a duration of 30-45 minutes each.  The Tai Chi program initially included stretching, posture, walking, and the basic posture and routines of Tai chi along with 24 specific exercises.  As the study progressed other Taijiquan routines were included with varying levels of difficulty.

The results of study over six years are quite interesting.  Increased blood pressure readings were significantly less in the Tai Chi group in both systolic and diastolic readings.  Weight and hip circumference measurements decreased slightly in the control group, with a more measurable change in the Tai Chi group.  Weight and BMI changes were also more significant in the Tai Chi group. The changes in the Cardiac Index showed a more positive trend in the Tai Chi group than the control group.

The implications of the study are numerous, showing that Tai Chi is a valuable and effective form of exercise for the obese adult.  The combination of smooth physical movement combined with rhythmic breathing creates a reduction in stress and a reduction in the aging of the autonomic nervous system.  

The limitations of the study were that the selection process ruled out participants with pre-existing chronic health issues and was limited to a Chinese population. The design was not a randomized study, which is needed to further support the findings.  At this time, this study does provide a positive view the cardiopulmonary benefits of Tai Chi for obese adults.

By: Martha Fiddes PT, GCS, NQA Research and Education Committee


Tai Chi can prevent cardiovascular disease and improve cardiopulmonary function of adults with obesity aged 50 years and older: A long-term follow-up study.

Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Oct;98(42):e17509. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000017509.Sun L, Zhuang LP,  Li XZ, Zheng J, Wu WF.

To research the possible role of Tai Chi in preventing cardiovascular disease and improving cardiopulmonary function in adults with obesity aged 50 years and older.

Between 2007 and 2012, 120 adults with obesity, aged 50 years and older, were divided into a Tai Chi group and a control group, with 60 participants in each group. The 2 groups were evaluated for weight, waist circumference, hip circumference, blood pressure (BP), body mass index, and incidence of chronic disease during follow-up monitoring.

Two- and 6-year follow-up showed that the average BP in the Tai Chi group along with either the systolic or diastolic pressure decreased significantly compared to those in the control group (P < .001). Waist and hip circumference, weight, and body mass index in the Tai Chi group were significantly reduced compared to those in the control group (P < .001).

The cardiopulmonary function of the control group and the Tai Chi group changed, with the cardiac index significantly higher in the Tai Chi group than in the control group (P < .05). The Tai Chi group had significantly higher levels of lung function, including vital capacity, maximal oxygen uptake, and total expiratory time, than the control group.

The total incidence of complications and mortality in the Tai Chi group were much lower than those in the control group (P < .001). The incidence of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease in the Tai Chi group (16.67%) was lower than that in the control group (38.33%).

Tai Chi is not only a suitable exercise for elderly people with obesity, but it can also help to regulate BP, improve heart and lung function in these individuals, as well as reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases, helping to improve their quality of life.

PMID: 31626108 DOI: 10.1097/MD.0000000000017509