Tai Chi may improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

By Melanie Hinze

Tai Chi could provide long­-term benefits in managing Parkinson’s disease, according to research published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

Researchers recruited two cohorts of patients from the Movement Disorders Clinic at Ruijin Hospital, Shanghai, China. One group comprised 143 people with Parkinson’s disease who completed Tai Chi training twice a week for an hour each time; the second control group comprised 187 patients with Parkinson’s disease who continued their usual daily activities. Patients were assessed at baseline (in 2016) and again in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Over an average of 4.3 years’ observation, Tai Chi training reduced the annual changes in the deterioration of the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale and was associated with a delayed need for increasing antiparkinsonian therapies.

Tai Chi training was also shown to have a long­-term beneficial effect on Parkinson’s disease, with improvements seen in motor and nonmotor symptoms. Of note, cognitive function deteriorated more slowly in the Tai Chi group, as did other nonmovement symptoms, whereas sleep and quality of life continuously improved.

The prevalence of complica­tions, including dyskinesia, dystonia, hallucinations and restless legs syndrome, was also significantly lower in the Tai Chi group than in the control group.

Associate Professor Natalie Allen, Neurological Physio­therapist at the University of Sydney, said, ‘Tai Chi is a safe and effective exercise option for people with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease.’

She told Medicine Today that people with Parkinson’s disease had reduced mobility and balance, which contributed to the increased rate of falls in this population.

‘Practising Tai Chi over the long term is beneficial for Parkinson’s disease impair­ments, including balance, and it may reduce fall risk and improve health-related quality of life,’ she said.

Associate Professor Allen explained that evidence had shown that people with Parkinson’s disease, including those with mild disease, benefitted from tailored exercise programs that incorporated aerobic exercise, strength and balance exercise such as Tai Chi and task­-specific training.

‘Referral to a physiotherapist is important as they can provide tailored exercise prescriptions, which are monitored and adjusted over the long term to optimise mobility and delay disability for people with Parkinson’s disease,’ she added.

The study authors concluded that Tai Chi could offer long­ term beneficial effects for patients with Parkinson’s disease, including prolonging the time during which patients were nondisabled, resulting in a higher quality of life, lower caregiver burden and less drug usage.

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2023; doi: 10.1136/ jnnp-2022-330967.