The therapeutic effect of tai chi on depressive symptomatology
Ali, Naomi Sarah
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The use of complementary and alternative medicine continues to increase among people with depression. Tai chi, qigong, and yoga are classified as a subset of complementary and alternative medicine, called mind-body movement therapies. Tai chi originated thousands of years ago in China. Traditionally, tai chi is described as a practice that combines intentional breath and conscious movement to realign the opposing forces of yin and yang in the body. Nowadays, there is a diverse array of tai chi styles that may differ in their emphasis of physicality, flexibility, and attention to breath. Common forms include Yang and Sun styles. The current literature has postulated different biological mechanisms by which tai chi improves physical and mental health. Previous studies have found evidence of improved structural connectivity in brain regions involved in emotion regulation and self-awareness after regular tai chi practice. Furthermore, decreases in inflammation and improved balance between parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems have been identified as potential biological mechanisms. Promoting systemic changes in biology, tai chi may have great value as a clinical intervention for a range of disease populations with comorbid depression. Indeed, 44 original clinical trials have been identified in patients with depression alone as well as comorbid metabolic and gastrointestinal conditions, cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, musculoskeletal disorders, cognitive decline, neurodegenerative diseases, and other psychiatric disorders. In sum, the findings of these trials are mixed, with several studies suffering from small sample sizes and a lack of clearly detailed and published trial protocols. Furthermore, differences in intervention format as well as follow up-data duration across studies makes comparison of trials’ results difficult. Future research to assess tai chi’s efficacy would benefit from larger sample sizes, inclusion of more methodologically rigorous control and comparator groups, and a reproducible description of trial protocol. As complementary and alternative medicine becomes more established in traditional health care institutions, greater funding and research into how tai chi specifically impacts depression symptoms in different patient populations would improve the individually tailored nature of health care for people with complex disease profiles.
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