Tai chi can improve Type 2 diabetes control, say researchers in Taiwan and Australia.
Tai chi is a martial art known for its slow and graceful movements and focus on proper alignment, relaxation, and breathing.
Researchers in Taiwan whose work is published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, assessed the impact of a 12-week programme of tai chi exercises on the T helper cell activity of 60 patients . Half of the patients were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the other half were diagnosed without the condition. All those studied were the same age.
“T helper cells (also known as effector T cells or Th cells) are a sub-group of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell or leukocyte) that plays an important role in establishing and maximizing the capabilities of the immune system. ” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T_helper_cell
Researchers suggest that while strenuous physical activity depresses the immune system response, moderate exercise such as tai chi seems to have the opposite effect.
Previous research has suggested tai chi boosts cardiovascular and respiratory function, as well as improving flexibility and relieving stress. It may be that relaxation, an important part of tai chi practice, may help to prevent or reduce the high adrenalin levels that are believed to cause insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels.”
If tai chi improves the way the body breaks down sugar, it might have a beneficial impact on the immune system, which is becomes over-active when the blood has high sugar levels.
The exercise may improve the function of the immune system simply by raising fitness levels, and bringing about a feeling of well-being.
The Australian study was a preliminary one done at the University of Queensland seeking to investigate the “feasibility, acceptability and effects of a tai chi and Qigong medical exercise program that aimed to improve indicators of metabolic syndrome and glycaemic control in adults with elevated blood glucose.”
The abstract of the study states that a single group pre-post trial of 11 participants (3 male and 8 female; aged 42-65 years) with elevated blood glucose, conducted from August to November 2005. Participants attended tai chi and Qigong exercise training for 1 to 1.5 hours, 3 times per week for 12 weeks, and were encouraged to practice the exercises at home.
Researchers measured indicators of metabolic syndrome (body mass index, waist circumference, blood pressure, fasting blood glucose, triglycerides, HDL-cholesterol), and glucose control (HbA1c, fasting insulin and insulin resistance) and found “significant improvements” in four of the seven indicators – body mass index [mean difference -1.05 (95% CI: -1.48, -0.63), p<0.001], waist circumference [-2.80 cm (-4.97, -0.62), p<0.05)], and both systolic [-11.64 mm Hg (-19.46, -3.51), p<0.01)] and diastolic blood pressure [-9.73 mm Hg (-13.58, -5.88), p<0.001)].
They found were also small improvements in HbA1c [-0.32 % (-0.49, -0.15), p<0.01)], fasting insulin [-9.93 pmol/L (-19.93, 0.07), p = 0.051] and insulin resistance [-0.53 (-0.97, -0.09), p<0.05]. The researchers recommend that larger controlled studies to confirm these promising results. The abstracts and complete text of the Taiwanese and Australian studies can be accessed through the British Journal of Sports Medicine Online View the abstract of the Taiwan study here: View the abstract of the Australian study here: Commentary. The health benefits of tai chi are widely documented. But for the most part, the studies are small and “preliminary.” Many are very well done, yet some are, in my opinion, clearly flawed. Some are so small that I would tend to call them anecdotal. Many studies fail to consider the wide variety of styles and skill levels of teachers. (Some tai chi classes provide little or no aerobic workout while other tai chi classes can offer an aerobic intensity similar to cross-country skiing. As the Australian researchers pointed out, larger studies are needed. However, even anecdotal evidence, when offered in great volume and with great consistency, can be somewhat convincing. Tai chi has been around for centuries, and has been widely promoted as a health exercise since the 19th century in China, and for half a century in the rest of the world. During that time there has been an endless supply of testimonials from students claiming the practice has improved their health and quality of life. A few years ago doctors in the USA analysed 47 studies of the health effects of tai chi. They found that it could improve balance control, flexibility, and the health of the cardiovascular system. They also found it reduced stress, falls, pain and anxiety. A study two years ago in the USA showed that elderly participants in in a 12 week tai chi program reduced symptoms of aging to levels equal to those 10 years younger in the control group. Most so-called “clinical trials” offer little in the way of convincing evidence. At best they can suggest topics of further study. When choosing a lifestyle change, or place our faith in a teacher, we can be expected to require more than the conclusions of a few clinical studies. I suggest that we will need several kinds of proof:
Historical proof – Has success been documented in the past?
Theoretical proof – Is it logical that it should be successful?
Visible proof – Has it worked for anyone we know recently?
But the only real proof that matters for the individual is actual proof. Does is work for me now?
If I have seen enough proof to commit faithfully to the practice, then my faith (dedication, belief) will be enough to carry me through the first few difficult weeks until I see results. If it doesn’t work for me, or ceases to work for me, I will likely quit practising, or change the practice until I achieve the desired results.
Actual proof trumps any other kind of proof. If it works for me, no amount of scientific evidence, history, or theory will stop my devotion. It may, however, cause me to adjust my understanding of what I do.