Globally about, 15 million people suffer from a stroke each year, with fivc million left permanently disabled. Typical disabilities include poor balance because neuromuscular control is lacking, blood pressure imbalance and depression.

To improve quality of life and reduce the risk of having another stroke, a safe and effective exercise program is recommended. But what type of exercise is best for stroke survivors? Research is under way here to help determine the answer.

Tai chi exercise, which originated in China more than 500 years ago, is associated with better balance, lower blood pressure, and improved mood – all are important for stroke survivors.  

What is Tai chi?

This gentle form of exercise incorporates a series of low-impact, slow-motion movements, sometimes called “meditation in motion.” Tai chi movements are circular and never forced. The muscles are relaxed and never tensed, and the joints are not fully extended or bent, making it a safe exercise for people with chronic disease or disabilities. It easily can be adapted for anyone, including persons who want to prevent a stroke or recover from one! 

Benefits of Tai chi

The mental concentration or mindfulness associated with tai chi is thought to promote peacefulness, reducing stress and tension, a belief supported by a recent review of research studies published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the official journal of The International Society for Complementary Medicine Research.

Balance is an essential component of everyday movements, such as walking, reaching and bending. Tai chi improves balance and, according to some studies, reduces falls. After having a stroke, the ability to sense the position of one’s body in space, termed “proprioception,” is diminished. For example, if you are blindfolded, you know through proprioception if your arm is above your head or hanging by your side.  Tai chi helps to train this sense and improves muscle strength and flexibility, making it easier to recover from a stumble. 

Another study reported that men and women at risk for coronary heart disease who attended one year of tai chi had better aerobic capacity, lower blood pressure and better cholesterol levels, when compared to those who did not do tai chi.


UA study under way

In Tucson, we are conducting a research study, funded by an American Heart Association National Scientist Development Grant and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar Grant, to determine if tai chi is effective in improving physical functioning or quality of life among stroke survivors. We are recruiting men and women ages 50 years and older who suffered a stroke at least three months ago.

The “Tai Chi for Stroke Survivors Study” is funded through 2012. Study participants will be randomly assigned to either 12 weeks of tai chi instruction from a tai chi master in Tucson, SilverSneakers® classes taught by a certified instructor, or receive weekly phone calls with written recommendations for participating in a community-based physical activity program.

Participants will be evaluated for balance, strength, walking speed and aerobic endurance at the beginning of the study, immediately after the intervention at 12 weeks, and at a 24-week follow-up.  There are no costs or restrictions on other physical activities for participants. 

For more information, call the Tai Chi Research Office at 621-7081, or visit the study website at

Ruth E. Taylor-Piliae, PhD, RN, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar, assistant professor in the University of Arizona College of Nursing, and a member of the Sarver Heart Center.

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