Tai chi may significantly reduce depression in Chinese Americans

The study is the first to focus on tai chi reducing depression symptoms on its own, rather than as a supplement to other therapies, researchers say.
By Amy Wallace  |  May 25, 2017 at 12:50 PM
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May 25 (UPI) -- The ancient martial art of tai chi may go beyond mindfulness, as a new study shows it could also significantly reduce depression symptoms in Chinese-Americans.

"While some previous studies have suggested that tai chi may be useful in treating anxiety and depression, most have used it as a supplement to treatment for others medical conditions, rather than patients with depression," Dr. Albert Yeung, of the Depression Clinical and Research Program in the MGH Department of Psychiatry, said in a press release. "Finding that tai chi can be effective is particularly significant because it is culturally accepted by this group of patients who tend to avoid conventional psychiatric treatment."

Tai chi has previously been shown to help with treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as for insomnia in breast cancer patients.

A pilot study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital enrolled Chinese Americans in a 12-week tai chi program to determine the effects of tai chi has on depression by itself.

Researchers wanted to test the impact of tai chi on depression symptoms in patients without any other medication or therapy treatment.

Study participants were broken down into three groups -- a tai chi practicing group, an active control group participating in educational classes on mental health and depression, and a passive control waitlist group that were assessed during and after the study.

Fifty Chinese Americans with a diagnosis of mild to moderate major depressive disorder participated in the study, with 17 in the tai chi group, 14 in the education group and 18 in the waitlist group.

The study found participants in the tai chi group showed significantly greater improvement to depression symptoms than those in the control groups.

"If these findings are confirmed in larger studies at other sites, that would indicate that tai chi could be a primary depression treatment for Chinese and Chinese-American patients, who rarely take advantage of mental health services, and may also help address the shortage of mental health practitioners," Yeung said.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

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