Discrepant results on the benefits of tai chi in the elderly

At the Chinese University of Hong Kong 180 men and women participated in tai chi or resistance training 3 times a week. The results were compared to a control group. The objective was to examine the effects on bone mineral density, muscle strength, balance and flexibility in independently living seniors.

I know, you’ve heard this song before. But this time the researchers hit some flat notes.

After a year, there was no difference in balance, flexibility, or in the number of falls between those practicing tai chi or the controls. Conclusion: “the beneficial effects of tai chi … on musculoskeletal health are modest and may not translate into better clinical outcomes.”

These findings are at odds with other research.

  • Simplified 50-minute tai chi sessions 3 times a week for 6 months in 51 older men resulted in a significant drop in blood pressure, increased handgrip strength, and better lower body flexibility.


  • 3-times-per-week tai chi for 6 months decreased falls, the risk for falling and the fear of falling, and improved functional balance and physical performance in physically inactive persons aged 70 years or older.

Older studies (all positive for tai chi) are summarized here.

The bottom line?
I wouldn’t stop the tai chi just yet.

3/16/07 22:48 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.