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Tai Chi Benefits Sedentary Adults Over 65

Tai chi participants who began with low levels of physical functioning were likely to realize rapid and sustained progress toward higher functional levels, said lead investigator Fuzhong Li, Ph.D., from the Oregon Research Institute.

In addition, those "who reported low levels of health perceptions and high levels of depression [before taking the classes] tended to benefit more in terms of changes in physical function than those with higher perceptions of health and lower depression," Li said.

The study, which was conducted by Li and his colleagues in 2001, observed the benefits of the low-impact Chinese exercise in adults over age 65.

The researchers reported that older men and women who took twice-weekly tai chi classes reported significant improvements in their self-rated functional limitations in as little as three months. After six months, the adults were twice as likely as a comparison group of wait-listed adults to report not being limited in their ability to perform moderate to vigorous activities, the study revealed.

"It is important to determine which participants benefit most, least or both from an intervention," Li said, adding that this information "can be vital for developing programs more finely tailored for specific subgroups."

The researchers re-analyzed their original data, taking additional participant characteristics into account, Li said.

Those who reported more physical limitations and were wait-listed tended to remain low functioning during the six-month study, the researchers noted. Participants who started the study with few or no limitations also tended to remain at their original level of functioning, whether or not they practiced tai chi, according to the findings.

In contrast, those who reported more limitations and took the classes, tended to improve at "significantly steeper rates" over the course of the study, according to the researchers. Lower functioning participants who expressed the worst perceptions of their general health and reported the most symptoms of depression were particularly likely to improve, the research team said.

Improvements from tai chi depended on finding a class that sufficiently challenged the individuals’ existing physical condition and the willingness of the participants to adhere to the routine, as evidenced by more frequent class attendance, Li said.

While the findings portray twice-weekly tai chi classes as an ideal option for sedentary adults, Lisaid he and his colleagues do not discount the value of regular training and exercise for activeindividuals. Among high functioning subjects, those who practiced tai chi tended to realize small, but significant, improvements in physical function, Li noted. These improvements might be greater if these subjects were "placed in a training class that employs more intensive/vigorous practices to promote appreciable changes," he said.

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