A Medical Assessment Of Taijiquan: The Tai Chi Benefits.

The following is a transcript of excerpts from a report compiled by Professor Qu Mianyu of China.

Forming an important part of the treatment often prescribed in hospitals and sanatoriums, Tai Chi has proved its efficacy in treating chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, neurasthenia and pulmonary tuberculosis.

The Tai Chi benefits have much to do with its characteristic features;

1/. The exercise requires a high degree of concentration, with a free mind.
2/. The movements are slow and uninterrupted like a flowing river.
3/. Breathing is natural, sometimes involving abdominal respiration and is performed in rhythmic harmony with body movements.

The high degree of concentration required in Tai Chi or to use its full name taijiquan which means Supreme Ultimate Fist, also benefits the function of the central nervous system. Training the mind and the body at the same time, these exercises stimulate the cerebral cortex, causing excitation in certain regions and protective inhibition in others. This enables the cerebrum to rest, and relieves the cerebral cortex of the pathological excitation caused by ailments, thus helping to cure certain nervous and mental diseases. Continuing Prof. Qu's report:

The results of recently completed testing and examination of taijiquan practitioners is of particular interest to medical and sport personnel. In this project healthy subjects aged between 50 & 89 were divided into two groups and given a battery of tests. Group A contained 32 people who practised taijiquan regularly, while group B (the control group) was composed of 56 individuals who did not engage in taijiquan training. In general, those in group A were found to have stronger physiques characterised by more efficiently functioning cardiovascular, respiratory, osseous and metabolic systems.

Other Findings of Tai Chi Benefits

About cardiovascular efficiency, the two groups underwent a functional test of stepping up and down a 40cm. high step 15 times within a minute. All but one person in the A group could bear this workload with normal type responses in blood pressure and pulse. In the control group, capability of bearing this workload decreased, and abnormal responses (such as type of step reaction and dystonia reaction) increased with age. The difference was also evident in electrocardiograms. (Prof. Qu then gives these scientific findings but would bear meaning only to medical practitioners).

These findings suggest that regular practise of taijiquan results in an increased supply of blood to the coronary arteries, more forceful heart contractions and improved emodynamic processes. Moreover, taijiquan may enhance the regulatory function of the central nervous system, improve the co-ordination of the various organs in the human body, increase the tension of the vagus nerves, ensure adequate supplies of blood and oxygen to the tissues of the various organs and facilitate substance metabolism. All of which contribute to a lower rate of incidence of hypertension and arteriosclerosis. The average blood pressure for group A was 134/80.8 while in group B it was l54/82.7 mmHg. The rate of incidence of arteriosclerosis was 39.5 and 46.4 respectively.

Regular practise of taijiquan can increase the elasticity of the lung tissues, the respiratory magnitude of the chest (which helps to retard the ossification of the rib cartilages), ventilatory capacity of the lungs and improves the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Experiments showed group A superior in both the respiratory discrepancy of the chest and vital capacity. The greater vital capacity results from a stronger diaphragm and muscles of the thoracic walls, greater lung tissue elasticity and a lower rate of ossification of rib cartilage. For those whose breathing is severely limited by ossification of rib cartilage, abdominal respiration accompanying taijiquan exercises will help ventilation of the lungs, and through rhythmic change of abdominal pressure, speed up blood flow and gas exchange in the alveoli pulmonum.

This explains why, when completing the functional test, group A subjects breathed more easily and recovered more quickly than those in the control group do. Taijiquan can also strengthen the bones, muscles and joints. For instance the spine. Since many taijiquan movements hinge on the waist and involve a great deal of lumbar movements, systematic exercise can be beneficial to the form and structure of the lumbar vertebral and indeed the spinal column as a whole. Researchers noted that only 25.8 % of the subjects in group A suffered from spinal column deformities, whereas in the control group the percentage was 47.2. Furthermore, fewer group A subjects were victims of common, age related hunchback deformities. Individuals in this group had more flexible spines as evidenced by the fact that 77.4% were able to touch their toes, as against 16.6 in the control group. X-ray examination indicated that the rate of incidence of senile osteoporosis was 36.6% for group A and 63.8 for the control group. Senile osteoporosis, which leads to deformity and inflexibility of joints, is a degenerative affliction mainly caused by inactivity of the osteoblasts, resulting in their inability to produce sufficient matrices so that more bone is resorbed than formed. It may also be caused by such factors as reduced blood supply to bones owing to arteriosclerosis and poor absorption of calcium and potassium from food due to a lack of hydrochloric acid in the gastric juices. In so far as taijiquan can prevent or lessen such disorders, its role in retarding the ageing process is noteworthy. Limited data were uncovered relative to the effects of taijiquan exercises on substance metabolism in the human body.

However, judging from the difference between the two groups of oldsters in skeletal changes and in the incidence of arteriosclerosis, the tai chi benefits of exercise appear to be significant as far as the metabolism of fats, proteins and calcium and potassium salts is concerned. In recent years, several researchers in other countries have studied the role of physical exercise in delaying senescence. Cholesterol levels have dropped substantially for those engaged in regular exercise. Experiments conducted on elderly people inflicted with arteriosclerosis reveal that after five or six months training there has been an increase of albumin and a decrease of globulin and cholesterol in their blood, while symptoms of arteriosclerosis have greatly diminished. Professor Qu concluded that a regular program of taijiquan exercises can be beneficial to one's physical wellbeing.


In Concluding the Tai Chi Benefits

There have been many other experiments done in other countries with regard to tai chi benefits and these are well documented. For my own experience, I have seen one student of mine who was a diabetic placed onto tablets instead of two daily injections of insulin. I have seen chronic ulcers heal up after the doctors had given up, and I have personally treated R.S.I (repetitive strain injury) and seen it healed due to the practise of taijiquan. I have also seen students whole attitude towards life strengthen almost overnight. These tai chi benefits are real and it is a truly amazing exercise especially when combined with the correct diet and breathing exercises. The younger you are the better taijiquan will work to keep you young and healthy, it is not an old person's exercise, it is for everyone and the tai chi benfits are also for everyone.