Tai chi is sometimes referred to as “moving meditation”—practitioners move their bodies slowly, gently, and with awareness, while breathing deeply. Tai chi appears to be a safe practice. Scientific research on the health benefits of tai chi is ongoing, but several prior studies have focused on benefits in older adults, including tai chi’s potential for preventing falls, and improving cardiovascular fitness, symptoms of pain associated with rheumatologic diseases (e.g., fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis), and overall well-being. A 2007 study on the immune response to varicella-zoster virus suggested that tai chi may enhance the immune system and improve overall well-being in older adults. Tai chi has also been studied for improving functional capacity in breast cancer patients and the quality of life in people with HIV infection.
In general, studies of tai chi have been small, or they have had design limitations that may limit their conclusions. The cumulative evidence suggests that additional research is warranted and needed before tai chi can be widely recommended as an effective therapy. This issue of the digest provides a summary of current evidence on tai chi for several conditions.