Tai chi can tip the scales of balance back in your favor

Exercise is the second pillar in the five pillars of health in Chinese medicine. The fact that it ranks second out of five (diet, exercise, bodywork, herbal medicine and acupuncture) underscores the importance of continued movement for continued function. The old saying “if you don’t used it, you lose it” applies not only to mind, but body, too.

In Chinese medicine, the preferred forms of exercise are slow, sustained efforts that are gentle on the joints. Tai chi, a softer form of martial arts, is a broad term for a specific series of exercises that is often described as moving meditation. The slow, gentle movements make it an appropriate form of exercise for just about anyone, especially for seniors.

There have been many scientific studies about the efficacy of tai chi for various conditions; here are just a few highlights:

• A study published in 2012 in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded “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. (Funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.)” (1)

• A group of 256 previously inactive adults, ages 70 to 92, were assigned to either a stretching routine or tai chi. After six months of exercise, the tai chi group had 38 falls verses 73 in the stretching group, with only 7 percent leading to injury verses 18 percent in the stretching group.

According to the study published in 2005, “the risk for multiple falls in the tai chi group was 55 percent lower than that of the stretching control group. …A three-times-per-week, 6-month tai chi program is effective in decreasing the number of falls, the risk for falling and the fear of falling, and it improves functional balance and physical performance in physically inactive persons, aged 70 years or older.” (2)

• In a study published in 2014, patients with multiple sclerosis had measurable improvements in balance, coordination, life satisfaction and mood compared to the control group of treatment as usual after six months of tai chi. While fatigue worsened in the control group during that time, the tai chi group had a fairly stable fatigue level. Their fatigue did not improve, but it did not worsen like the control group. (3)

• A 2004 study of patients with stable congestive heart failure found improvements in quality of life, distance walked, decreased serum B-type natriuretic peptide levels and a possible improvement in peak oxygen uptake with the addition of a tai chi exercise program to standard care. (4)

• A 2009 study evaluated short form tai chi for the following criteria: “Dynamic standing balance evaluated by the center of gravity (COG) excursion during self-initiated body leaning in 4 directions, standing equilibrium evaluated in sensory challenged conditions and functional mobility assessed by Timed-up-and-go score.” The results showed that tai chi improved everything, including vestibular integration, but not the timed-up-and-go score. (5)

• A 2008 study of 15 asthmatic children found that tai chi can improve pulmonary function in the short term, and it deserved longer, follow-up studies. (6)

• Female senior cancer survivors who were taught tai chi verses a control group who received health education had significantly lower systolic blood pressure and cortisol (stress) levels. (7)

The jury is still out on some alleged benefits
Can tai chi affect blood sugar? There are conflicting studies about that. A 2009 study states that 31 test subjects who completed a tai chi exercise program had improvements in fasting glucose, quality of life and performed more self care activities than the control group. (8)

Another study reports the improvements on insulin resistance and HbA(1c) were related to losing fat, not the specific tai chi exercise, but suggests a more intense form of tai chi that burns more calories might be effective for blood sugar control. (9)

An overall look at Pub Med articles will reveal conflicting studies on cardiovascular effects, too, but most studies trend in the direction that tai chi improves balance as well as reduces risk factors for chronic disease.

How do I get started?
Personal instruction is always the best method to learn a new form of exercise, especially if you anticipate needing adjustments for your current ability level. Check with your local gym or community calendar for classes. There are plenty of DVDs and YouTube videos for home practice, too.

Check in with your health care team before you get started, and get ready to bring balance back to body, mind and spirit.

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist at Vitalichi Acupuncture in Port Charlotte, Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.

Chinese Medicine is more than just needles

Say the word acupuncture, and immediately many people conjure up an image of pincushion patients with needles sticking out of them from every direction. And don’t forget the pain. Acupuncture is supposed to be really painful, right?

Not so.

The reality is that acupuncture is just one branch of the Chinese Medicine umbrella, and it’s not even the most important branch. Needling a patient is the most visible form of Chinese Medicine, but there is much more going on behind the scenes. An acupuncture physician not only treats patients with acupuncture, but educates patients on the five pillars of Chinese Medicine in order of importance: Diet, exercise, bodywork, herbal medicine and acupuncture.

Diet: Your acupuncturist knows that food is medicine; that’s why it is top of the list of the five pillars. With every bite of food, a person is either fighting disease or fueling it. And people eat way more than they get acupuncture! Just because diet is the top pillar doesn’t mean a person has to convert to veganism or give up their favorite food to be healthy. If Chinese Medicine had one keyword, it would be balance. When it comes to diet, that means creating meals that look like a rainbow, with a variety of color and flavor, including meat as a garnish, not a main dish. That also means not feeling guilty about eating “sinful” foods once in while, either, because being healthy shouldn’t be a painful sacrifice. Hydration is also a part of the first pillar. It’s a rare person who couldn’t improve their intake of water. As part of your office visit, your acupuncture physician will sit down with you and offer nutritional suggestions, but not a diet, tailored to your health goals.

Exercise: The goal of Chinese Medicine is to keep “qi” moving. The basic definition of qi is energy and oxygen. You need both to stay healthy. Gentle movement improves energy and circulation, keeps the muscles toned and the joints well-lubricated. Your acupuncturist will need to know what your daily activity levels are, and may suggest incorporating more movement into your day. Tai chi and yoga are excellent ways to care for the whole body in low-impact ways, but your acupuncturist will make suggestions based on what’s best for you. It’s up to you to also talk with your other health care providers and develop an activity routine best suited for your needs. Remember, qi equals energy, movement and life. The more you move, the more you can maintain good health.

Bodywork: The third pillar of Chinese Medicine is bodywork, and that’s no surprise, because brains are hardwired to respond to touch. People thrive on healthy touch. Regular therapeutic massage and chiropractic helps the body respond to stress more efficiently and keeps the joints mobile. In America, acupuncturists do not practice the chiropractic aspects of Chinese bodywork unless they are dual licensed. However, other forms of bodywork are included in their scope, and that could be tui na (Chinese massage), cupping, acupressure, etc. Many acupuncturists are also dual licensed in massage as well.

Herbal Medicine: Here’s where people’s perception of Chinese Medicine starts meshing with the reality of the five pillars. Herbal medicine is a big part of Chinese Medicine, and it’s considered to be a less invasive form of treatment than acupuncture. Your acupuncture physician is trained to provide guidance on what herbs and supplements are appropriate for a patient’s needs, but it’s important that a patient be honest about everything they take, from pharmaceutical medicines, to herbs, supplements and over-the-counter-medications. All of these play a big part in creating the chemical landscape in a patient’s body, and not everyone should be taking herbs or extra supplements. Just because Dr. Oz thinks something is awesome does not mean it’s awesome for you. Seek guidance from your team of medical professionals, including your acupuncturist, before you try something new.

Acupuncture: Finally — the needles! This is what people envision when they think of Chinese Medicine. It’s not voodoo, you don’t have to change religions, or even believe the needles will work in order to have a good treatment. Acupuncture works on what are called channels, or meridians, which are lines of energy that are connected to specific physiological functions. These physiological functions are not grouped or named in western medical terms, but they do conform to specific patterns that your acupuncturist is trained to look for. These meridians cover the entire body, usually starting or ending in the face, hands or feet. After 5,000 years, we can finally see them by injecting radioactive dye or using ultrasound. These meridians travel in the spaces between fascia, or the connective tissue that covers all muscles and organs in a three-dimensional web. Nothing is wasted in the human body, not even the “spaces.” Acupuncture physicians use their knowledge of these channels to give specific instructions to a patient’s nervous system by placing hair-thin, solid and sterile needles in specific locations. Each time a patient gets an acupuncture treatment, they are getting an individually written “computer” health program written just for them. The brain picks up the instructions and then begins to “run” the program. Sometimes results show quickly; sometimes it takes several sessions, depending on how much “malware” a patient has. Acupuncture is a lot like going to the gym. A patient can’t work out once, lose 20 lbs. and never have to exercise again. Acupuncture is just one tool to help patients re-balance their physiological functions.

The bottom line is that there is no “magic cure” or one solution that fixes everything. It takes a good balance of the five pillars to create a solid foundation for good health. Like work and taxes, health is an investment that everyone spends time on sooner or later. Chinese Medicine is a proven map to good health, no matter what pillar a patient finds themselves on at any given time.

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist at Vitalichi Acupuncture in Port Charlotte, Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.