T’ai chi helps recovery after a stroke

Stroke Association’s Conference hears about recent research

Women doing t'ai chi

T’ai Chi can prove remarkably effective at improving balance and posture, and calming the breathing.

T’ai chi can improve balance and reduce the likelihood of falling in people recovering from a stroke, new research has revealed. One of the most common problems for those recovering from a stroke is that their balance is not what it used to be. Consequently, the incidence of falls in stroke survivors is unusually high. The findings of the research were presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference, 2013.

Ruth E. Taylor-Piliae, Ph.D., R.N., the study’s principal investigator and assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Nursing in Tucson, Arizona, recognises the problem.

“Learning how to find and maintain your balance after a stroke is a challenge,” she says. “T’ai chi is effective in improving both static and dynamic balance, which is important to prevent falls.”

Are falls a real danger?

The statistics speak for themselves. According to Taylor-Piliae, people who have survived a stroke experience seven times as many falls each year as healthy adults, and these falls can result in fractures, decreased mobility and a growing dependence on others. They can ultimately mean that the person becomes isolated and loses virtually all social contacts.

Physical activity and aerobic exercise is vital
… but research indicates t’ai chi brings the best results

The research involved 89 stroke survivors, with an average age of 70, nearly half of whom were women, and most of whom were Caucasian. They were mostly college educated and had suffered a stroke on average three years prior to the study. They were split into three groups. The first group, numbering 30, practised t’ai chi, the second group (28) participated in the usual care routine, and the third group (31) took part in SilverSneakers®, a well established fitness regime for seniors.

The usual care group each received a phone call and written material each week encouraging them to take part in physical activity of some kind. The other two groups took part in a one-hour fitness class, three times a week.

Fewer falls in the t’ai chi group

The study lasted 12 weeks, during which the participants reported a total of 34 falls, mostly from slipping or tripping. 15 of the falls were within the usual care group, 14 in the SilverSneakers® group, and only five in the t’ai chi group.

The lead researcher commented,

“The main physical benefits of t’ai chi are better balance, improved strength, flexibility and aerobic endurance.” She added, “Psycho-social benefits include less depression, anxiety and stress, and better quality of life.

The study was funded by an American Heart Association Scientist Development Grant and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars Grant, and was published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Physical activity is always beneficial, specially after something as damaging as a stroke. T’ai chi is ideal exercise for recovering therapy because it focuses on controlling the breathing, focusing the mind, and moving slowly and deliberately.

Practising the movements of t’ai chi calms the mind and helps the student gain greater control over bodily movements. And anyone who has already experienced t’ai chi can attest that it is a wonderfully relaxing and calming exercise that leaves you invigorated rather than exhausted. T’ai chi is is now thought to be practised regularly by 2.5 million people around the world.

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