Improve the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease with Long-Term Tai Chi Practice
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Tai chi training appears to reduce balance impairments in patients with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease, with additional benefits of improved functional capacity and reduced falls.” – Fuzhong Li
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is an incurable progressive degenerative disease of the central nervous system. The condition is caused by the death of nerve cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. There are around seven million people worldwide living with PD. Its physical symptoms include resting tremor, slow movements, muscle rigidity, problems with posture and balance, loss of automatic movements, and slurring of speech. Balance is a particular problem as it effects mobility and increases the likelihood of falls, restricting activity and reducing quality of life.
There are no cures for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) or even treatments to slow its progression. There are only treatments that can produce symptomatic relief. So, there is a need to discover new and different treatments. Mindfulness training has been found to improve the psychological symptoms and the quality of life with PD patients. In addition, combinations of mindfulness and exercise such as Tai Chi and yoga practices have been shown to improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. The mechanisms of how Tai Chi practice improves the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are not known.
In today’s Research News article “Mechanisms of motor symptom improvement by long-term Tai Chi training in Parkinson’s disease patients.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8819852/ ) Li and colleagues recruited early-stage Parkinson’s Disease patients and randomly assigned them to 1 year of no treatment, brisk walking, or Tai Chi practice. They were measured at baseline, 6 months, and 1 year for Parkinson’s Disease symptoms, balance, timed up and go, and gait analysis. They also had blood drawn and analyzed for inflammatory cytokines and protein metabolites. In addition, they had their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).
They found that in comparison with baseline, no treatment, and brisk walking, Tai Chi practice produced significant increases in balance and significant decreases in step width at both 6 and 12 months. In comparison to no treatment Tai Chi practice produced significant decreases in Parkinson’s Disease symptoms, timed up and go, and blood cytokine levels and a significant increase in amino acid metabolism. In addition, improvements in Parkinson’s Disease symptoms were associated with increased connectivity in the brain Default Mode Network, increased amino acid metabolism, and decreased blood cytokine levels.
The results suggest that Tai Chi practice over a prolonged period improves the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease and is superior to brisk walking in doing so. The results also suggest that Tai Chi practice may produce these improvements by altering physiological processes including the brain, inflammatory system, and protein metabolism.
So, improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease with long-term Tai Chi practice.
“The incorporation of Tai Chi in the daily life of Parkinson’s disease patients allowed them to stay functionally and physically active. Improvement of physical parameters indicated that Tai Chi had the potential to slow down the progression of Parkinson’s disease.” – Allison Rodriquez
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Li, G., Huang, P., Cui, S. S., Tan, Y. Y., He, Y. C., Shen, X., Jiang, Q. Y., Huang, P., He, G. Y., Li, B. Y., Li, Y. X., Xu, J., Wang, Z., & Chen, S. D. (2022). Mechanisms of motor symptom improvement by long-term Tai Chi training in Parkinson’s disease patients. Translational neurodegeneration, 11(1), 6. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40035-022-00280-7
Tai Chi has been shown to improve motor symptoms in Parkinson’s disease (PD), but its long-term effects and the related mechanisms remain to be elucidated. In this study, we investigated the effects of long-term Tai Chi training on motor symptoms in PD and the underlying mechanisms.
Ninety-five early-stage PD patients were enrolled and randomly divided into Tai Chi (n = 32), brisk walking (n = 31) and no-exercise (n = 32) groups. At baseline, 6 months and 12 months during one-year intervention, all participants underwent motor symptom evaluation by Berg balance scale (BBS), Unified PD rating-scale (UPDRS), Timed Up and Go test (TUG) and 3D gait analysis, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), plasma cytokine and metabolomics analysis, and blood Huntingtin interaction protein 2 (HIP2) mRNA level analysis. Longitudinal self-changes were calculated using repeated measures ANOVA. GEE (generalized estimating equations) was used to assess factors associated with the longitudinal data of rating scales. Switch rates were used for fMRI analysis. False discovery rate correction was used for multiple correction.
Participants in the Tai Chi group had better performance in BBS, UPDRS, TUG and step width. Besides, Tai Chi was advantageous over brisk walking in improving BBS and step width. The improved BBS was correlated with enhanced visual network function and downregulation of interleukin-1β. The improvements in UPDRS were associated with enhanced default mode network function, decreased L-malic acid and 3-phosphoglyceric acid, and increased adenosine and HIP2 mRNA levels. In addition, arginine biosynthesis, urea cycle, tricarboxylic acid cycle and beta oxidation of very-long-chain fatty acids were also improved by Tai Chi training.
Long-term Tai Chi training improves motor function, especially gait and balance, in PD. The underlying mechanisms may include enhanced brain network function, reduced inflammation, improved amino acid metabolism, energy metabolism and neurotransmitter metabolism, and decreased vulnerability to dopaminergic degeneration.