Tai Chi Improves Sleep in Elderly People
Practicing tai chi exercises regularly can improve sleep as well as daytime functioning in elderly people with moderate sleep disorders, reports the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (2004;52:892–900).
Sleep disorders, which include difficulty falling or staying asleep, early waking, and daytime sleepiness, are a common problem for elderly people. A recent study found that more than half of people 65 years or older report chronic sleep problems. The consequences of sleep disorders include impaired daytime functioning, lower activity level, depression, poor health, and higher incidence of heart disease. Medications used to promote sleep can worsen daytime sleepiness, inactivity, and depression. However, regular exercise can improve sleep as well as the problems associated with sleep disorders. One study found that medium-intensity exercise increased sleep time by 45 minutes per night in elderly people with mild to moderate sleep disorders.
Tai chi, a traditional Chinese exercise, combines meditation with gentle movement sequences that involve the whole body but do not strain joints or muscles. Tai chi practice is believed to promote good health, and studies have found that it can reduce blood pressure, improve heart health, increase muscle strength, improve balance, and reduce the risk of falling. It has also been shown to reduce both anxiety and depression, and to promote an overall sense of well-being.
The current study included 118 people who were at least 60 years old, who had reported moderate sleep difficulty and had not been physically active in the previous three months. They were randomly assigned to one of two groups: one group participated in a low-intensity exercise program that involved seated exercises, breathing, stretching, and relaxation for one hour, three times per week; the other group practiced tai chi exercises for one hour, three times per week. After 24 weeks, the tai chi group had improved significantly in sleep time and quality. The time it took for them to fall asleep decreased by 18 minutes and time asleep increased by 48 minutes per night. Sleep quality and daytime functioning were also significantly better. By contrast, the low-impact exercise group did not improve in any of these categories. Strength and balance also improved in people in the tai chi group, while they did not for the people in the low-intensity exercise group.
The results of this study show that tai chi can improve both sleep and daytime functioning in elderly people. Tai chi is an attractive exercise type for elderly people because it is not stressful to the joints and can be practiced at any pace. The other health benefits attributed to the practice of tai chi make it a good choice for practitioners who recommend exercise to older people with mild to moderate sleep disorders.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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