In several previous articles I have reported on the health benefits of Taiji. Recently a new review paper “Psychological Effects of Tai Chi Chuan” has been published . The paper reports on a review of published literature on the psychological benefits of Taiji. A summary of that paper is reported here.
The paper reviewed literature in seven electronic data bases: Medline-Pubmed, Scirus, Pascal, ScienceDirect, SportDiscuss, Science Citation Index, and BIOSIS. It searched using key words that are different combinations of the terms: Tai Chi, Tai Chi Chuan, Taiji, Tai Ji Quan, psychology, cognition, stress, anxiety, depression, mood, sleep disorder, well-being, self efficacy, mental health, self-esteem, quality of life, and fear of falling, as well as their Spanish translations. It looked at publications that were published up to June 2011 in either English or Spanish. The search excluded those which did not have the purpose of measuring the effects of Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) on psychological and mental health. Forty-three articles were found, with eight of them being review articles.
There were several Taiji styles used in these studies, and the most commonly used was the Yang Style. The form sets used were mostly the shorter form sets, such as 24, 16, or 10 movements, instead of the longer form set of 108 movements. The mean duration was 14 weeks, frequency of 2-3 times per week, for an average duration of one hour per session.
There were several sets of studies. Here is a summary of the findings:
- Based on analyses of 3072 healthy patients and 745 patients with chronic pathologies such as anxiety, sleep disorders, osteoarthritis, diabetes, AIDS, cancer, balance problems, ADHD, heart problems: Practice of TCC contributes significant improvements to emotional well being with regard to mood, depression, anger and tension, anxiety, stress, self-efficacy, sleep disorders, fear of falling, emotional disorders, and self-esteem.
- Although there were not very many studies that focused on the effects of TCC on cognition (a group of mental processes that includes attention, memory, producing and understanding language, learning, reasoning, problem solving, and decision making), there were two studies that showed significant improvements in attention, memory, concentration and speed of information processing, although a third study did not show such significant improvements. Improvement in cognition could be due to improvements in cardiorespiratory system resulting in transporting more oxygen to the brain. Having good cognition skills is especially important for the elderly because these skills are very important when organizing and maintaining healthy life habits.
- Three studies with elderly people showed that there were significant improvements with respect to sleep problems, which could result in decreased anxiety and depression and increased quality of life in the elderly (and decreased hyperactivity in children although these studies were not with children).
- Several studies showed that there is significant increase in the feeling of vitality which is an important component of good psychological health.
- Since most of the participants were older adults, there was only one study focusing on a young group with ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, (this review article did not specify whether these were young adults or teenagers). This study found that there were significant improvements with respect to anxiety and sleep disorders.
There were also several other interesting findings:
- The slower the TCC movements were carried out, the better the effects of the exercise. This is not surprising to experienced Taiji practitioners, because the slower the movements, the more relax you are, and you take slower and deeper breaths, thus inhaling more oxygen.
- The lower the stance the better the effects of the exercise. Again, this is not surprising because the lower the stance, the more stress the exercise puts on your legs, and therefore the higher the degree of difficulty of the exercise.
- One study investigated the difference of the TCC exercises on men and women. It found that women showed more significant improvements with regard to mood, depression, anger, and self-esteem than men.
- One study found that TCC had a more significant positive effect with respect to emotional well being (depression, mood, anger, and confusion) and bodily well being (fatigue) in subjects who had been classified as having an “impatient” personality than in those who had been classified as being “calm.”
- Although other low-to-moderate intensity exercises may also bring improvements in psychological health, the article points out that there are several advantages to TCC in the sense that it doesn’t require any equipment, is very flexible with respect to time and place for practicing, and I should add as well as the almost zero-adverse impacts on the body.
In summary, this paper has reviewed the literature on studies on the psychological health benefits of Taiji. Many studies did find that practicing Taiji can result in significant improvements in several aspects of psychological health. However, the results are not always uniformly consistent and the sample sizes are still small. It is possible that other types of low-to-moderate intensity exercises could also lead to positive results, although there are advantages for Taiji over other types of exercises due to Taiji not requiring any equipment, flexibility in location and time of practice, and its almost zero-adverse impacts on the body. More studies are needed with two or more control groups to differentiate the results from performing Taiji exercises and other types of low-to-moderate intensity exercises.
[1[ P. J. Jimenez, A. Melendez, and U. Albers, “Pshchological Effects of Tai Chi Chuan,” Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics 55 (2012) 460-467.