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NCCIH Clinical Digest

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Spotlight on a Modality: Tai Chi

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August 2015
A woman practices Tai Chi outside.

© Matthew Lester

Tai chi is sometimes referred to as “moving meditation”—practitioners move their bodies slowly, gently, and with awareness, while breathing deeply. Tai chi appears to be a safe practice. Scientific research on the health benefits of tai chi is ongoing, but several prior studies have focused on benefits in older adults, including tai chi's potential for preventing falls, and improving cardiovascular fitness, symptoms of pain associated with rheumatologic diseases (e.g., fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis), and overall well-being. A 2007 study on the immune response to varicella-zoster virus suggested that tai chi may enhance the immune system and improve overall well-being in older adults. Tai chi has also been studied for improving functional capacity in breast cancer patients and the quality of life in people with HIV infection.

In general, studies of tai chi have been small, or they have had design limitations that may limit their conclusions. The cumulative evidence suggests that additional research is warranted and needed before tai chi can be widely recommended as an effective therapy. This issue of the digest provides a summary of current evidence on tai chi for several conditions.

What the Science Says: 

Modality and Summary of Current Evidence

Fall Prevention

There is evidence that tai chi may reduce the risk of falling in older adults. There is also some evidence that tai chi may improve balance and stability with normal aging and in people with neuro-degenerative conditions, including mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease and stroke.

Read more about the evidence base of tai chi for preventing falls in older adults

Chronic Pain

Some studies suggest that practicing tai chi may help people manage chronic pain associated with knee osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.

Read more about the evidence base of tai chi for chronic pain

Rheumatoid Arthritis

There is some evidence that tai chi may improve lower extremity range of motion in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Results of studies suggest that tai chi does not exacerbate symptoms. It is not known if tai chi improves pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis or quality of life.

Read more about the evidence base of tai chi for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

Insomnia

There is some limited evidence that suggests tai chi may be a useful nonpharmacologic approach to improve sleep quality.

Read more about the evidence base of tai chi for insomnia

Mental Health

A range of research has examined the relationship between exercise and depression. Results from a much smaller body of research suggest that exercise may also affect anxiety symptoms. Even less certain is the role of tai chi—for these and other psychological factors.

Read more about the evidence base of tai chi for mental health disorders

Cognitive Function

There is some evidence that suggests tai chi may have the potential to provide modest enhancements of cognitive function in older adults without cognitive impairment.

Read more about the evidence base of tai chi for cognitive function

Cardiovascular Health

There is only limited, inconsistent evidence available on the effectiveness of tai chi for cardiovascular health. A few studies suggest beneficial effects of tai chi on cardiovascular risk factors, but most of the studies have been small, of short duration, and of poor quality to draw conclusions.

Read more about the evidence base of tai chi for cardiovascular health

Scientific Literature

NCCIH Clinical Digest is a service of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, NIH, DHHS. NCCIH Clinical Digest, a monthly e-newsletter, offers evidence-based information on complementary health approaches, including scientific literature searches, summaries of NCCIH-funded research, fact sheets for patients, and more.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is dedicated to exploring complementary health products and practices in the context of rigorous science, training complementary health researchers, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCIH's Clearinghouse toll-free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCIH Web site at nccih.nih.gov. NCCIH is 1 of 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, the Federal focal point for medical research in the United States.

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This page last modified November 19, 2015