T'ai chi is good for health, but researchers still don't know why

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The ancient martial art of t'ai chi has proven medical benefits, research published today says. But the medical establishment is still mystified as to how the slow-motion movements actually improve health.

The ancient martial art of t'ai chi has proven medical benefits, research published today says. But the medical establishment is still mystified as to how the slow-motion movements actually improve health.

American researchers from the Tufts-New England Medical Centre in Boston published their findings in their journal Archives of Internal Medicine. They reviewed 47 studies looking at the effect of t'ai chi on healthy people, and patients with chronic conditions.

Dr Chenchen Wang, the lead author, said: "Overall, these studies reported that long-term t'ai chi had favourable effects on the promotion of balance control, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness and reduced the risk of falls in the elderly. Benefit was also found for balance, strength and flexibility in older subjects; and pain, stress and anxiety in healthy subjects."

But the authors said they were still unsure about exactly how t'ai chi worked saying the mechanisms were "not well known."

T'ai chi dates back 2,000 years. According to Chinese legend, it was created by a Taoist monk who was inspired as he watched a fight between a crane and a snake.

Described as "meditation in motion". T'ai chi combines deep breathing with relaxation and postures that flow from one to another through slow movements which are designed to release energy and negative feelings. In China, about 10 million people practise a form of t'ai chi every day. The discipline arrived in Britain about 50 years ago, but it gained popularity only in the past decade. There are estimated to be about 100,000 practitioners in Britain.

Leading article, page 28

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