Practicing a particular Chinese martial art could help reduce the symptoms and complications of Parkinson’s disease for several years, according to a new study.
Regular practice of Tai Chi, which involves very slow sequences of controlled movements, is linked to slower progression of the debilitating neurodegenerative disease, with patients likely to need lower doses of medication over time, according to research published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder affecting the nerves and muscles, characterized by slowness of movement, tremors at rest, and stiff, inflexible muscles.
It is the fastest growing neurological disease in the world, with two people diagnosed every hour in the UK, according to Parkinson’s UK.
There is still no cure for this disease, and although medications can improve symptoms, they do not treat all manifestations of the disease.
Previous research has suggested that Tai Chi may have positive effects on patients with Parkinson’s disease, but it is unclear whether this can be sustainable in the long term.
In this new study, scientists, including those from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, followed two groups of Parkinson’s patients for more than five years, from January 2016 to June 2021.
Disease severity, medication use, age and education level were similar in both groups.
One group of 147 patients practiced Tai Chi twice a week for one hour, while another group of 187 patients continued their usual care but did not practice the martial art.
Doctors monitored the severity and progression of disease in all participants as well as their increased medication requirements at the start of the monitoring period and in November 2019, October 2020 and June 2021.
The extent of movement, mood, sleep quality and cognition as well as other symptoms such as the prevalence of complications such as involuntary movements (dyskinesia), abnormal muscle tone (dystonia), hallucinations and Restless legs syndrome were also monitored.
The scientists found that disease progression was slower at all monitoring points in the Tai Chi group, as assessed by three validated scales to assess overall symptoms, movement and balance.
They also found that the number of patients who needed to increase their treatment in the comparison group was “significantly higher” than in the Tai Chi group.
The researchers said cognitive function deteriorated more slowly in the Tai Chi group, while sleep and quality of life also continually improved.
However, scientists acknowledge that the study is observational and cannot establish cause and effect.
Citing another limitation of the research, they said the number of study participants was relatively small.
“Our study showed that Tai Chi maintains its long-term beneficial effect on (Parkinson’s disease), indicating potential disease-modifying effects on motor and non-motor symptoms, particularly gait, balance , autonomic symptoms, and cognition,” the scientists concluded. .