A study published by the British Medical Journal suggests that tai chi may be as good — or better — than aerobic exercise for people who suffer from fibromyalgia, a pathology linked to chronic fatigue, sleep disturbance and muscle pain that mainly affects women.
What type of exercise should be recommended for fibromyalgia sufferers who account for two to four percent of the world's population?
Generally treated at pain centers where the condition is diagnosed, these patients, who are mainly women, are encouraged to exercise regularly to alleviate widespread pain and anxiety and to boost their general health.
But what type of exercise offers the most benefits? In a bid to answer this question a team of American researchers compared the effectiveness of sessions of tai chi, a Chinese martial art that makes use of slow choreographed movements, with aerobic exercise (cycling, walking etc..) and also studied the influence of the duration and frequency of these activities.
The average age of the 226 study participants, of which 92% were women, was 52. They had suffered from fibromyalgia for an average of nine years, and none of them had been treated with alternative medical therapies in the six months that preceded the study.
Changes in their symptoms were assessed at 12, 24 and 52 weeks, and participants continued their standard medical treatment throughout this time.
The study showed better outcomes for patients who took part in twice weekly tai chi classes than for those who took part in supervised aerobic exercise.
Long-term practice of the discipline was found to be more effective than more frequent sessions, with little difference between patients who did tai chi once or twice a week, but increased benefits after 24 weeks of practice as opposed to 12 weeks.
"This mind-body approach may be considered a therapeutic option in the multi-disciplinary management of fibromyalgia," the study's authors concluded.
These latest findings add weight to the conclusions of a previous, 2016 study which found that complementary approaches like yoga, tai chi, and relaxation could help fibromyalgia patients to manage pain.