WEDNESDAY, Nov. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Arthritis patients may gain physical and emotional relief from the ancient Chinese art of Tai Chi, finds a new study, the largest of its kind.
Patients with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia felt better and moved more easily after taking twice-weekly classes in Tai Chi, a system of meditative exercise, researchers found.
"It reduced pain, stiffness and fatigue, and improved their balance," said study lead author Leigh F. Callahan, an associate professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.
Smaller studies have also linked Tai Chi to similar benefits for people with arthritis, but colleagues had questioned the applicability of the findings to a larger population.
In this study, in addition to evidence of mild to moderate relief from Tai Chi, participants reported gaining a better sense of physical stability, Callahan said. They were able to extend their reach while maintaining their balance, she said -- an important feat for people with arthritis.
Tai Chi, a form of mind-body exercise, originated as a martial art in China. It utilizes slow, gentle movements along with deep breathing and relaxation to build strength and flexibility.
Tai Chi has "become a lot more mainstream than it was even two to three years ago," said Callahan, who is also a member of UNC's Thurston Arthritis Research Center. "We've got people embracing it and being very interested in it."
If Tai Chi is proven to reduce arthritis symptoms, it could become a cheap and fairly simple treatment for the various forms of the condition. Typically, Tai Chi classes are inexpensive or free, Callahan said, and in this study, people with arthritis could participate even if they preferred to sit rather than stand.
In the study, the researchers randomly assigned 247 people -- almost al
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