Ai chi, a form of water exercise developed by Jun Konno and inspired by tai chi, qigong and Watsu®, may benefit people with multiple sclerosis, according to preliminary research published in NeuroRehabilitation (2013; 33, 431–37).
Lead study author Deniz Bayraktar, PT, MSc, from Gazi University in Ankara, Turkey, told IDEA Fitness Journal that he and his colleagues conducted the study because “we sadly realized that our [MS] patients got bored and even stopped coming for physiotherapy sessions. We decided we needed to find something new and enjoyable, and we came across Ai Chi.”
The study included 23 women with mild to moderate MS symptoms who were divided into two groups: an ai chi group that participated in 1-hour classes, two times per week, for 8 weeks; and a control group that did home exercises for the arms and legs, along with breathing exercises.
Ai chi group members improved in static standing balance, functional mobility, upper- and lower-extremity muscle strength, and fatigue levels. Control group members experienced no improvements. Bayraktar noted that the difference between ai chi specifically and water exercise in general lies in the focus on balance.
“The nature of Ai Chi challenges the patient with lots of balance exercises. [Since] risk of falling and loss of balance are major problems for MS patients, Ai Chi is useful exercise. MS patients can do many balance maneuvers, such as one-legged stances, that they could never try on land due to the risk of falling and injuring themselves.”
Bayraktar noted, “Scientific guidelines like the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults with Multiple Sclerosis recommend that MS patients perform exercise for aerobic capacity and strengthening at least two times per week. As seen from our Ai Chi study, Ai Chi has potential both for improving aerobic capacity, even though we did not evaluate it, and for strengthening . . . . People with MS need to move and exercise. Encourage finding the exercise program—such as Ai Chi, tai chi or Pilates—that best suits the person. In our physiotherapy center . . . if a patient does not like water, we say, ‘Why don’t you try Pilates?’”
Researchers recommended that future studies further explore the benefits of aquatic exercise for people with MS.
To learn more about ai chi, go to www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/ai-chi.