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Tai chi may help with Parkinson’s

A six-month program of tai chi exercises helped people with various stages of Parkinson’s disease improve stability, improve their ability to walk and reduce the frequency of falls.

A study released last week in the New England Journal of Medicine compared a six-month tailored tai chi program to resistance training and stretching to see which was most effective at improving functional movement, walking and balance for Parkinson’s patients.

Parkinson’s is a neurological disorder caused by a loss of neurons that produce dopamine, a chemical involved with muscle function and movement coordination. That can result in tremors, stiffness, poor coordination and more difficulty doing daily activities. It can also lead to a higher risk of falls, which can cause serious injuries.

Tai chi, a discipline that incorporates slow, deliberate movements, plus breathing, has health benefits that include reducing stress and improving balance and posture.

In the study, the tai chi group did better than the stretching group on a few measures: leaning without losing balance, having better directional control of their body, and walking skills. They outperformed the resistance training group on balance and stride length. Those in the tai chi group also reduced their frequency of falls more than the stretching group, and on a par with the resistance group.