NPR’s Patti Neighmond did a story on a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine about the possible benefits of Tai Chi to Parkinson’s Patients balance. The study was lead by research scientist Fuzhong Li, who himself is a Tai Chi practitioner. Tai Chi has already been shown to increase balance in the elderly.

Listen to the story:

In the study, Li divided Parkinson’s patients into three groups. One group did resistance training with weights. Another, stretching classes. And the third took up tai chi. Each group participated in a 60-minute class twice a week for six months.

The group who practiced Tai Chi had greater strength, better balance and fewer falls than the other two groups.

That led to significantly fewer falls for patients in the tai chi group. Maricle says that before tai chi, she would lose her balance eight to 10 times a day. Now it hardly ever happens. She recently even saved herself from what would have been a sure fall before tai chi. It was raining and dark, and she tripped on the curb as she got out of her car. She was able to hop onto the curb and steady herself.

“That would have been a fall for sure six or eight months ago,” she says.

Researchers don’t know exactly how tai chi works to restore balance. UCLA psychiatrist and brain scientist Michael Irwin says it may work by literally re-training areas of the brain that control movement.

“There’s a memory component of our nerves, and they’re receiving signals from our body all the time that are integrated by the brain,” Irwin says. “And it may be that what happens with tai chi is that it’s bringing awareness of the brain to these areas of the body” — thereby strengthening those areas of the brain.

You can read more at Tai Chi May Help Parkinson’s Patients Regain Balance