Tai Chi may be More Beneficial than Walking for Elderly Women
Republished with permission of Natural Standards Research Collaboration ©2006

Tai Chi may be more effective in improving fitness in elderly women than brisk walking, a new study suggests.

Researchers at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospitalās Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Harvard Medical School compared the effects of a short style of Tai Chi to a brisk walking training program on aerobic capacity, heart rate variability (HRV), strength, flexibility, balance, psychological status and quality of life in elderly women.

Nineteen community-dwelling, inactive women with an average age of 71 years were randomly assigned to Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) or brisk walking group (BWG).

A separate group of elderly women was recruited from the same population to act as an inactive comparison group (SCG).

The exercise groups met for one hour, three days a week for 12 weeks. Outcomes measured before and after training included oxygen consumption during exercise (VO2max), spectral analysis of HRV (high-frequency, low-frequency power as well as high- and low-frequency power in normalized units) as a measure of autonomic (unconscious) control of the heart, isometric knee extension and handgrip muscle strength, single-leg stance time, the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), Profile of Mood States (POMS) and questionnaires.

Significant improvement was seen in estimated VO2max in the TCC group. Significant gains were also seen in the non-dominant knee extensor strength and single-leg stance time.

The study concluded that a short style of TCC is an effective way to improve many fitness measures in elderly women over a three-month period. TCC was also found to be significantly better than brisk walking in enhancing certain measures of fitness including lower extremity strength, balance and flexibility.

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Reference: 1) Audette JF, Jin YS, Newcomer R, et al. "Tai Chi versus brisk walking in elderly women." Age Ageing. 2006 Jul;35(4):388-93. Epub 2006 Apr 19. View Abstract.