Background: Physical activity and exercise appear to improve psychological health. However, the quantitative effects of Tai Chi on psychological well-being have rarely been examined. We systematically reviewed the effects of Tai Chi on stress, anxiety, depression and mood disturbance in eastern and western populations.
Methods: Eight English and 3 Chinese databases were searched through March 2009. Randomized controlled trials, non-randomized controlled studies and observational studies reporting at least 1 psychological health outcome were examined. Data were extracted and verified by 2 reviewers. The randomized trials in each subcategory of health outcomes were meta-analyzed using a random-effects model. The quality of each study was assessed.
Results: Forty studies totaling 3817 subjects were identified. Approximately 29 psychological measurements were assessed. Twenty-one of 33 randomized and nonrandomized trials reported that 1 hour to 1 year of regular Tai Chi significantly increased psychological well-being including reduction of stress (effect size [ES], 0.66; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.23 to 1.09), anxiety (ES, 0.66; 95% CI, 0.29 to 1.03), and depression (ES, 0.56; 95% CI, 0.31 to 0.80), and enhanced mood (ES, 0.45; 95% CI, 0.20 to 0.69) in community-dwelling healthy participants and in patients with chronic conditions. Seven observational studies with relatively large sample sizes reinforced the beneficial association between Tai Chi practice and psychological health.
Conclusions: Tai Chi appears to be associated with improvements in psychological well-being including reduced stress, anxiety, depression and mood disturbance, and increased self-esteem. Definitive conclusions were limited due to variation in designs, comparisons, heterogeneous outcomes and inadequate controls. High-quality, well-controlled, longer randomized trials are needed to better inform clinical decisions.