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How tai chi could slow symptoms of Parkinson's disease

A new study shows that tai chi, a Chinese martial art, could slow the progression of motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in the long term

Tai chi could help slow the progression of Parkinson's disease. (Unsplash)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 30.10.2023  |  03:00 PM IST

Parkinson’s disease can significantly affect a person’s movement, causing stiffness, shaking, and balance and coordination problems. Scientists are exploring if physical activity can slow the course of the disease. Now, a new study has found that tai chi, a Chinese martial art, could slow the progression of motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in the long term.

Parkinson’s disease is caused by a decrease in the brain's dopamine production, which makes it difficult for the brain to coordinate muscle movements, according to John Hopkins Medicine. It can cause the muscles to tighten and become rigid, affecting a person’s ability to do daily tasks.

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The study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, investigated the effect of practising tai chi on symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The findings showed that disease progression, monitored over five years, was slower among the participants who practised tai chi twice a week. Furthermore, their cognitive function deteriorated slower, and sleep and quality of life also improved, as per Medical News Today’s report.

The researchers said that currently, no research focuses on the long-term effect of sports on Parkinson’s disease. It’s important to emphasise the importance of physical activity, especially those that could delay the need for increasing antiparkinsonian therapies. This study, however, focused on patients with early-stage Parkinson’s disease so the findings should be cautiously considered in terms of late-stage patients.

“It’s good to see that tai chi is becoming more of an evidence-based intervention for individuals with Parkinson’s. Any type of neuromotor exercise where you’re moving, thinking, and coordinating your body, a lot of those types of exercise modalities are recommended for Parkinson’s disease, such as dance, boxing, (and) table tennis," senor brain health coach, Ryan Glatt, told Medical News Today.

Currently, the mainstream treatment for treating motor-related symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is drug-based. However, there can be motor and non-motor complications in the late stage of the disease. Along with side effects, the drugs could also worsen the symptoms, Shengdi Chen, lead author of the study, told Medical News Today.

 “Dopaminergic drug therapies are mainly focused on the deficiency of dopamine. Thus, they can ameliorate several symptoms, such as bradykinesia. (And) for balance symptoms or gait disorders in Parkinson’s disease, the improvement is minimal while using dopaminergic drug therapies," he added.

Speaking to Medical News Today, Chen also said that, more research has shown that sports, including tai chi, could have several non-motor symptoms and quality of life of people with Parkinson’s disease.

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Reiterating this, another study, published in the journal Neurology in May, showed that hat regular exercise could reduce the risk of developing Parkinson's disease by up to 25%. Hence, researchers have said it’s important to explore further the link between physical activity and Parkinson’s disease.

Also read: How exercise may lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease