Much research supports the physical benefits of practicing tai chi, particularly to improve balance among older adults. Tai chi may also enhance mental and emotional well-being for a variety of people from young to elderly, as noted by a recent literature review.

Investigators from Shenzhen Polytechnic in Shenzhen, China, and the University of Houston conducted a systematic review of tai chi studies to evaluate the reported psychological benefits associated with practicing tai chi and to assess the existing state of research.

As a mind-body movement program, the review found, tai chi offers both physiological and psychological benefits. Studies have shown that the psychological gains include improvements in confidence, quality of life, motivation, self-efficacy, mood, mental health disorders, anxiety, depression and phobias. The data suggests that children, teens, healthy young adults, healthy adults, the elderly, and adults with chronic diseases may all find value in consistent tai chi practice. The challenge, however, is that many studies lack the scientific thoroughness of a well-designed randomized controlled trial with specific criteria for quality of instructors, exercise program design, and length and frequency of participation.

More research incorporating rigorous scientific methodology is needed to further document tai chi’s psychological benefits and to explain the underlying mechanisms that are responsible for positive change.

The review was published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine (2012; doi:10.1155/2012/678107).