Different forms of martial arts are practiced worldwide, each with various intensities of physical activity. These disciplines are potentially an effective exercise therapy for metabolic diseases. Tai chi is the most well-studied style of martial arts and has shown evidence of its effect on metabolic diseases; however, little evidence is available regarding the association between other styles of martial arts and metabolic health. To summarize and evaluate the effects of martial arts on metabolic diseases, eligible articles were searched by using Pubmed. To date, systematic reviews provide no definite conclusion on the effectiveness of tai chi for treating metabolic diseases because of a small numbers of subjects, short durations of clinical trials, and some biases involved in testing. However, there are several clinical studies on subjects with metabolic diseases, which show that tai chi improves obesity, glycemic control, blood pressure control, and lipid profiles. Currently, some limited evidence suggests that other martial arts, such as kung fu and karate, may be beneficial for body composition, glycemic control, and arterial stiffness. To clarify the effectiveness of martial arts for treating metabolic diseases, well-designed prospective studies, preferably with a larger number of subjects and of longer duration, are warranted.
Keywords: diabetes; martial arts; metabolic disease; tai chi.