Parkinson disease is a degenerative disease of the nervous system. It gradually decreases motor abilities. Signs and symptoms of Parkinson disease include tremors, weakness, loss of balance and decreased ability to walk. These changes make patients more vulnerable to falls and further injury. Although the disease affects the nerves, muscle conditioning and balance work through exercise may delay functional impairments in people with Parkinson disease.
Researchers from Oregon investigated whether a particular style of exercise, Tai Chi, is effective at improving balance and function in patients with Parkinson disease. The trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that Tai Chi was associated with improved balance.
About the Study
This randomized trial included 195 patients with Parkinson disease with average age 69 years old. The patients were randomly assigned to one of three exercise groups for 24 weeks. Participants were assigned to Tai Chi classes, resistance training, or stretching for 60 minutes twice per week. At six months, Tai Chi was associated with:
- Significantly greater improvement in balance compared to stretching or resistance training
- Significantly greater improvement in a combination of gait, strength, number of falls and motor scores than stretching
- Trend toward fewer falls compared to resistance training
At three months, Tai Chi was associated with lower risk of falls than resistance training or stretching.
How Does This Affect You?
Randomized control trials are considered some of the most reliable forms of research. This trial design allows researchers to control for other factors that may affect the outcome and compare treatment choices with other options. This study was particularly well done and took many steps to ensure reliable results. In addition, Tai Chi has been shown effective to help balance and basic conditioning in people with other health conditions, making these results even more likely.
Tai Chi is an exercise program that includes strengthening, stretching, postural stability, and balance work. Its focus on functional movement as well as its gentle approach may make it an ideal program for people with neurological challenges. Other exercises may also help improve strength and endurance but Tai Chi may have a particular benefit of helping to decrease falls as well. Talk to your doctor or therapist about which exercise programs or combination of programs may be best for you.