New Study Reveals Which Exercise Can Significantly Improve Parkinson's Symptoms

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How This One Exercise Can Benefit Parkinson'sAlexey Koza - Getty Images
  • Tai chi is a form of martial arts that focuses on slow and gentle movements paired with breathing exercises.

  • New research suggests that long-term tai chi practice may improve symptoms and reduce complications in individuals with Parkinson's disease.

  • Not only is tai chi easy to start, but it is suitable for all fitness levels and can benefit people with certain chronic diseases.

An ancient martial art that originated in China, tai chi is a low-impact form of exercise that focuses on slow and gentle movements paired with controlled breathing. The practice boasts over 250 million practitioners around the world, and has been associated with helping manage stress, improve balance and combat pain related to lower-back issues, fibromyalgia and knee osteoarthritis. But its benefits may also include helping people with major chronic diseases. New research showed promising results related to practicing long-term tai chi and Parkinson's disease.

The study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, looked at two groups – one group of about 143 patients with Parkinson's disease and active tai chi training, and another control group of 187 Parkinson's' disease patients with no exercise. The participants were assessed routinely over the course of 3.5 years. The results found tai chi to have a long-term beneficial effect on Parkinson's disease, with improvements in symptoms and a reduction in complications. Tai chi training also delayed the need for increasing anti-Parkinson's therapies.

But this isn't the first time that tai chi has shown promise with Parkinson's disease. Prior research, including a review in 2021, showed that regular tai chi sessions had a positive effect similar to that of other exercise therapies like dancing and aerobic exercise. Additional findings have shown that practicing tai chi may be helpful for people with other chronic diseases including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

How long does it take to learn tai chi?

There are 108 movements in tai chi that are paired with breathing exercises to connect the mind and body during the practice. You'll often start with just a few movements and slowly work your way up from there. Your dedication to the practice and frequency and duration of sessions are all factors that will determine how long it will take you to learn tai chi, but it can take about 30 sessions to learn the basic movements.

Is tai chi good for beginners and seniors?

Tai chi is a great option for beginners because it requires no special equipment or expertise to start. It's not as strenuous as other forms of exercise, so any fitness level and nearly any age can participate in it. Plus, given its well-researched health benefits, it is generally considered to be safe for people with different medical issues including heart disease and COPD. Some research has even found that tai chi may prevent falls and improve balance in older individuals.

All you'll need is some comfortable clothes, sneakers and a bottle of water for your tai chi session. You can find a class near you, or even search for a virtual session or video on your phone or computer. Find some open space either inside or outdoors and follow along with the routine to practice the movements. If you stick with it for a few weeks, you'll start to reap the wonderful mind and body benefits of a regular tai chi practice.

The bottom line: Tai chi is a low-impact form of exercise that is beginner-friendly and safe for most populations. Prior studies have linked a regular tai chi practice with reducing stress, improving balance, managing pain and benefitting individuals with certain chronic diseases. New research shows that long-term tai chi practice can improve symptoms and reduce complications in individuals with Parkinson's disease. You can find tai chi classes near you or search for a tai chi instructional video online to get started.

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