Improve the Physical Fitness of Children and Adolescents with Intellectual Disorders with Tai Chi

Improve the Physical Fitness of Children and Adolescents with Intellectual Disorders with Tai Chi


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


giving a child beginner skills can be life changing. Qi Gong has the power to bring one physical ease, mental clarity, emotional stability and spiritual awareness. That is worthwhile at any age.” – Donna Henderson


Intellectual disabilities involve below average intelligence and relatively slow learning. They are quite common, affecting an estimated 10% of individuals worldwide. These disabilities present problems for the children in learning mathematics, reading and writing. These difficulties, in turn, affect performance in other academic disciplines. The presence of intellectual disabilities can have serious consequences for the psychological well-being of the children, including their self-esteem and social skills. In addition, anxiety, depression, and conduct disorders often accompany learning disabilities. Not as well known is that children with intellectual disabilities also have motor problems.


Mindfulness training has been shown to improve attentionmemory, and learning and increase success in school. Exercise has been shown to improve psychomotor performance in children with intellectual disabilities.  Tai Chi practice is both an exercise and a mindfulness practice. It has been found to be effective for an array of physical and psychological issues. So, it makes sense to examine Tai Chi practice for children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities.


In today’s Research News article “Tai Chi as an Alternative Exercise to Improve Physical Fitness for Children and Adolescents with Intellectual Disability.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Kong and colleagues recruited children and adolescents (aged 10-18 years) who had an intellectual disability (IQ < 70). They were randomly assigned to either no treatment, or to 12 weeks of twice a week 1 hour of either aerobic dance exercise, or Tai Chi training. They were measured before and after training for body size, body fat, flexibility, balance, coordination in upper and lower extremities, muscular strength (grip strength), leg power, muscular endurance, and cardiorespiratory fitness.


They found that the aerobic dance was more strenuous (heart rate mean of 105 beats per minute) than Tai Chi practice (heart rate mean of 97 beats per minute). Compared to baseline the aerobic dance group had significant increases in body mass index, sit-ups, and 6-min walk test. The Tai Chi group had significant increases in vertical jump, lower-limb coordination, and upper-limb coordination, and balance.


These results demonstrate that exercise is beneficial for children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities helping them overcome some of their motor problems. Aerobic dance and Tai Chi practice are both beneficial, but have different physical benefits. Aerobic dance appears to increase body size and fitness while Tai Chi practice appears to improve leg strength and limb coordination as well as balance. It would probably make sense in the future to combine the two exercises into a single program to produce maximum benefits. These programs may be very helpful for the children and adolescents in correcting motor problems. It was not tested but this could improve their self-esteem.


So, improve the physical fitness of children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities with Tai Chi.


“Kids with special needs benefit from Tai Chi.  Because Tai Chi works on the inside of the body it helps to relieve the sense of inner turmoil and confusion that gets us off balance.  It can alleviate stomachaches, nervousness, fear, anger and frustration.  It helps improve focus, concentration and self-control.” – Cari Shurman


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Kong, Z., Sze, T. M., Yu, J. J., Loprinzi, P. D., Xiao, T., Yeung, A. S., … Zou, L. (2019). Tai Chi as an Alternative Exercise to Improve Physical Fitness for Children and Adolescents with Intellectual Disability. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(7), 1152. doi:10.3390/ijerph16071152



Objective: The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of Tai Chi (TC) on anthropometric parameters and physical fitness among children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities (ID). Methods: Sixty-six Chinese individuals engaged in sport-related extracurricular activities (TC and aerobic exercise (AE)) as exercise interventions or arts/crafts activities as a control condition (CON). The experimental protocol consisted of a baseline assessment, a 12-week intervention period, and a post-intervention assessment. Results: Significant interaction effect was only observed in the performance of a 6-min walk test. After 12 weeks of intervention, the AE group had significant changes in body mass index (p = 0.006, d = 0.11), sit-ups (p = 0.030 and d = 0.57), and 6-min walk test (p = 0.005, d = 0.89). Significant increases in vertical jump (p = 0.048, d = 0.41), lower-limb coordination (p = 0.008, d = 0.53), and upper-limb coordination (p = 0.048, d = 0.36) were observed in the TC group. Furthermore, the TC group demonstrated significantly greater improvements on balance compared to the control group (p = 0.011). Conclusions: TC may improve leg power and coordination of both lower and upper limbs, while AE may be beneficial for body mass index, sit-ups and cardiorespiratory fitness.


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