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Tai Chi For People With Cancer

What is tai chi and how might it help a person with cancer?

While Tai Chi was initially developed from the martial arts over 400 years ago in China, it is now used world wide primarily to improve health. It is a slow-moving meditative exercise that improves the physical body while focusing the mind and calming the spirit. Traditional forms of tai chi and styles of teaching have been modified to make tai chi more accessible to the general population while keeping it safe. Forms have been designed by Australian family physician Dr. Paul Lam and his team of medical experts to specifically address the needs of people with chronic health conditions including people with cancer. These modifications keep people in their comfort zones while gradually building up aerobic capacity, balance, flexibility, and muscle strength so that people can gradually increase their abilities while always staying safely in their comfort zones. This is especially important in people whose physical health has deteriorated as a result of cancer and its treatment. The stress reduction aspect is also useful in people diagnosed with cancer.

Tai chi has been found to be useful in a variety of conditions:

  • Studies have shown that people who do tai chi as a part of cardiac rehabilitation are more likely to continue the exercise over the next year when compared with people who are given home-based exercise. As a result of practicing tai chi regularly, these people have been shown to have better cardiovascular fitness after one year than did the people who were following a home-based exercise program.

  • People with congestive heart failure who practice tai chi along with their conventional medical treatment have been found to have improved quality of life, longer walking distance in 6 minutes, and improved physiologic status as a result of the tai chi.

  • It has also been shown that people over 70 years of age who do regular tai chi maintained their level of cardiovascular fitness over the next two years whereas the control group experienced a decline in cardiac function.

  • A study by Dr. Lee et al in the Journal of Rheumatology (9/2003) demonstrated a 29-35% improvement in arthritic symptoms, balance, and physical functioning in older women with osteoarthritis. After 12 weeks of participating in the Tai Chi for Arthritis program, these women reported 35% less pain, 29% less stiffness, and 29% increased ability to perform daily tasks.

  • A study at Emory University in adults over 70 years of age found that just twelve weeks of tai chi resulted in 47.5% fewer multiple falls over the next two years than in controls who did not learn tai chi.

  • In multiple studies throughout the world, tai chi has been found to improve the quality of people’s lives by improving their sense of well-being, their posture, balance, strength, aerobic capacity, and flexibility.

What kinds of tai chi classes are appropriate for people with cancer?

Not all tai chi forms and classes are the same. If you have physical problems stemming from cancer and its treatment, you will need a class that has adaptations to allow students to stay in their comfort zones. Dr. Lam has a website,, which lists certified Tai Chi for Health instructors. These instructors have been specifically trained to teach the modified Tai Chi for Health forms and to make adaptations as needed for specific physical conditions. If you don’t have a certified instructor in your area, there are other ways to find safe classes. If the instructor is not certified in Dr. Lam’s Tai Chi for Health programs, it is helpful if they are a health care provider such as a physical therapist, nurse, or doctor as they will tend to be more observant of students in the class and more knowledgeable about how to teach the classes safely. Classes held in senior centers or health care settings also tend to be more mindful of students’ physical limitations. You might also ask other people with cancer what classes they have found helpful.

What if you have more questions?

Please feel free to browse my website for more information. You may also contact me if you have other questions.



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