15 Oct 2013

Health Benefits of Tai Chi *Part 2*

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An Interview with Harvard Medical School Researcher Dr. Peter Wayne, PhD


Missed *Part 1* of this interview? Catch up here!

Conventional medical science on the Chinese art of tai chi now supports what tai chi masters have known for centuries: regular practice can bring you significant health benefits. Dr. Peter Wayne, a longtime tai chi practitioner, teacher and a researcher at Harvard Medical School, has developed a simple health program based on his and other’s extensive research showing how tai chi can benefit your heart, bones, nerves and muscles, immune system, and brain.

Dr. Wayne’s program—included in his new book, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart, and Sharp Mind, written with health writer Mark L. Fuerst—is suited to people of all ages, and can be done in just a few minutes a day. The program he provides may help lessen the effects of diseases such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and heart failure while leading to more vigor and energy, greater flexibility, balance, and mobility.

Emperor’s College academic dean to the master’s program, Dr. Jacques MoraMarco, had the opportunity to interview Dr. Wayne for the Qi Blog, where he elaborates on the health benefits of tai chi and how it can help prevent disease.

Dr. Jacques MoraMarco: In part 2 of your book, you walk the reader through the health benefits of tai chi by looking at it through the lens of modern science. Can you walk us through some of the key benefits that you list in individual chapters and how tai chi is so effective at improving these particular conditions?


Tai Chi and Multitasking

Dr. Peter Wayne (right) and Dr. Jacques MoraMarco (left)

Dr. Jacques MoraMarco (left) and
Dr. Peter Wayne (right)

We also are learning that tai chi helps improve the ability to multitask.  When you’re practicing tai chi, you’re moving different parts of your body in different planes, you’re breathing, and you’re aware of your internal mental state as well as your environment. Your attention is dealing with multiple things at the same time.  We’ve been testing this aspect of cognitive function by studying people’s balance while doing what is called a dual task test.

For example, if you’re standing on one leg and you’re trying to balance, you’ll find it challenging. But if you’re standing on one leg and you’re asked to do a cognitive task, such as counting backwards by 7s starting at 193, it’s much more challenging. We compared people’s ability to manage balance during these and other dual tasks before and after practicing tai chi. Tai chi seems to improve the execution of two things at the same time.

Tai Chi, Heart Health, and Mood

Other evidence-based reviews indicate that tai chi benefits heart health. It seems to have a moderate effect on regulating blood pressure. There are now multiple studies supporting that tai chi may improve mood. New trials on depression show that people who practice tai chi seem to be able to reduce their symptoms of depression and improve sleep.

JM: Do you see tai chi as a viable treatment modality in an integrative medical setting?

PW: The premise of our book is that it’s not really an “either – or”. Tai chi is a great tool for prevention to keep us healthy so we don’t develop certain conditions, but if you suffer from particular conditions, tai chi can be an excellent complementary therapy.

The Harvard Medical Guide to Tai Chi

Order the book here

People can use our tai chi program in conjunction with other therapeutic processes, such as taking pain medications, seeing a physical therapist or psychotherapist, or getting acupuncture or massage therapy.

We now have a number of programs across Harvard hospitals that incorporate tai chi.  We have a program teaching tai chi to patients with Parkinson’s disease and their family members. We also have programs for people with cardiovascular risk factors and balance problems. We’re focusing on building a strong network of programs across all of our hospitals. We hope this can be become a model so that other institutions may be able to adopt similar programs and integrate tai chi and related mind-body therapies into their healthcare delivery model.

JM: What was the response to your book in the medical community?

PW: I’ve been really touched by the response from a number of different communities.  I’ve been happy to hear from people, including many medical practitioners who have never practiced tai chi, but were drawn to the book because it was published by a Harvard Medical School–affiliated press.  It was my hope to help build a bridge to this community.  I was especially happy by the support for the book by other tai chi teachers, who expressed appreciation for synthesizing, in one place, research evidence and insights that will inform how they teach their students.

And I’m happy to hear that there are medical schools like your institution, Emperor’s College, as well as other medical schools, such as Stanford University and Kansas Medical School, that have adopted the book for their academic courses.

Craving more goodies about the health benefits of Tai Chi?

1. Start with Health Benefits of Tai Chi *Part 1*.

2. Experience it for yourself in an 11-week Tai Chi class through Emperor’s College Opening Series program.

3. Then, order Dr. Wayne’s Book, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. (We’re excited to use it as a textbook in our tai chi classes in the master’s program!)

About Peter Wayne, PhD
Peter Wayne, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Director of Research for the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, jointly based at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. His book, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai chi, which was written in collaboration with award- winning health writer Mark L. Fuerst, covers everything people need to know to incorporate tai chi into their daily habits for a healthier, happier life.

About Jacques MoraMarco, OMD, LAc
Among the first licensed acupuncturists in the United States in 1977, Dr. Jacques MoraMarco, OMD, has over thirty-five years of experience in clinical medicine, academia and college administration. He currently serves as Academic Dean to the Master’s Program at Emperor’s College of Traditional Oriental Medicine. Prior to completing his doctorate in Oriental medicine at California Acupuncture College, he studied at the Institute of Oriental Medicine Studies in Los Angeles and completed postgraduate work at Ecole Europeene d’Acupuncture in Paris.

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