Stroke survivors improve balance with tai chi

Mar 23, 2009

Stroke can impair balance, heightening the risk of a debilitating fall. But a University of Illinois at Chicago researcher has found that stroke survivors can improve their balance by practicing the Chinese martial art of tai chi.

Christina Hui-Chan, professor and head of physical therapy at UIC, has studied and used as a way to improve balance and minimize falls among healthy elderly subjects. Now she and a colleague have seen similar results in a group of .

The study used 136 subjects in Hong Kong who had suffered a stroke more than six months earlier. Participants were randomly assigned to a tai chi group or a control group that practiced breathing, stretching and other exercises that involved sitting, walking, memorizing and reasoning.

Tai chi consists of constant coordinated movement of the head, trunk and limbs requiring tremendous concentration and . Participants learned a simplified form that had been shown to be beneficial to arthritis patients.

Patients were trained in small groups by in a weekly class, then practiced at home three days a week for one hour. They received 12 weeks of training but were able to learn the technique in as little as eight. The goal was to make the patients as independent in their treatment as possible, Hui-Chan said.

They were then tested for their ability to maintain balance while shifting weight, leaning in different directions, and standing on moving surfaces to simulate a crowded bus. In these tests the tai chi group out-performed the control exercise group. The two groups performed about the same on another test, which was not focused solely on balance but involved sitting, standing, walking, and returning to sit down.

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

While learning tai chi is not easy, Hui-Chan has found that most people can learn the art if taught by a trained instructor. Many Chinese practice tai chi in morning group exercises, and Hui-Chan thinks the experience can work for Americans and other western nationalities.

"It can be taught at community centers, YWCAs or YMCAs, or in parks in the summer," she said.

Hui-Chan said that benefits of tai chi include improved strength and cardio fitness. Group classes also provide a healthy social gathering for isolated seniors at a fraction the cost of physiotherapy or personal training.

More information: The findings, now accessible online, will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair.

Source: University of Illinois at Chicago (news : web)

Explore further: How the brain leads us to believe we have sharp vision

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study: Chinese exercises good for seniors

Jun 28, 2006

University of Illinois scientists say they have confirmed previous studies, finding ancient Chinese exercises such as tai chi are good for older adults.

Practicing Tai Chi Boosts Immune System in Older Adults

Mar 22, 2007

Tai chi chih, the Westernized version of the 2,000-year-old Chinese martial art characterized by slow movement and meditation, significantly boosts the immune systems of older adults against the virus that leads to the painful, ...

Elderly's restless nights helped by ancient martial art

Jun 21, 2008

[B]Study shows that tai chi chih promotes healthier sleep in older adults[/B] More than half of all older adults complain about having difficulties sleeping. Most don't bother seeking treatment. Those who do usually tur ...

Recommended for you

Myelin vital for learning new practical skills

Oct 16, 2014

New evidence of myelin's essential role in learning and retaining new practical skills, such as playing a musical instrument, has been uncovered by UCL research. Myelin is a fatty substance that insulates ...

Reminiscing can help, not hinder, some mind-bending tasks

Oct 16, 2014

To solve a mental puzzle, the brain's executive control network for externally focused, goal-oriented thinking must activate, while the network for internally directed thinking like daydreaming must be turned down to avoid ...

Bio-X scientists develop decoy drug to aid ailing brain

Oct 16, 2014

A team of Stanford Bio-X scientists has restored the ability of adult mice to form new connections in the brain. If the finding works in people, it has the potential to help adults recover from stroke and ...

User comments : 0