ExerciseProf. ErnstTai Chi

Does tai chi increase aerobic capacity?

As we all know, aerobic capacity is perhaps the most important indicator of physical fitness. And no, according to this review by Prof. Ernst, tai chi does not increase it.

Not everyone agrees.

First, the details.

  • 5 studies were found that measured changes in maximal oxygen consumption as a test for aerobic capacity.

And, the results.

  • 3 studies compared tai chi with no treatment.
    • Meta-analysis showed no effect of tai chi on aerobic capacity vs sedentary controls.
  • 2 studies compared tai chi to conventional physical exercise — including brisk, low intensity, and moderate intensity walking, and aerobic exercise.
    • Tai chi was not superior to physical exercise.

The bottom line?
Contrasting this negative review is another meta-analysis on the effectiveness of tai chi to improve aerobic capacity. It included 14 studies (7 from the original report here, plus 7 more included in the 2008 update here).

Dr. Ruth Taylor-Piliae from The University of Arizona in Tucson identified specific groups that might benefit most. “Tai chi exercise is effective in improving aerobic capacity when practiced long term. Middle-aged and older women and men benefit most, with greater gains seen among those initially sedentary. Tai chi can be recommended as an alternative aerobic exercise, particularly among sedentary adults [who are] 55 years old [or older].

Amazing what relaxing the inclusion criteria will do.

11/21/08 19:21 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.