Context: Declines in physical performance are associated with aging and chronic health conditions. Appropriate physical activity interventions can reverse functional limitations and help maintain independent living. Tai chi is a popular form of exercise in China among older adults.
Objective: To determine whether tai chi improves balance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility over time.
Design: Repeated measures intervention; data collected at baseline, 6 weeks, and 12 weeks.
Setting: Community center in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Participants: Thirty-nine Chinese adults with at least 1 cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factor.
Interventions: A 60-minute tai chi exercise class 3 times per week for 12 weeks.
Main outcome measures: A battery of physical fitness measures specifically developed for older adults assessed balance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility.
Results: Subjects were 65.7 (+/- 8.3) years old, Cantonese-speaking (97%) immigrants, with 12 years or less of formal education (87%) and very low income (67%). Reported CVD risk factors were hypertension (92%), hypercholesteremia (49%), diabetes (21%), and 1 current smoker. Subjects were below the 50th percentile of fitness at baseline compared to age- and gender-specific normative US data. Statistically significant improvements were observed in all balance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility measures after 6 weeks, and they increased further after 12 weeks.
Conclusions: Tai chi is a potent intervention that improved balance, upper- and lower-body muscular strength and endurance, and upper- and lower-body flexibility in these older Chinese adults. These findings provide important information for future community-based tai chi exercise programs and support current public health initiatives to reduce disability from chronic health conditions and enhance physical function in older adults.