MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Tai Chi has been suggested to have many health benefits. Might it even prolong life? There are many enthusiasts who claim just that, but is there any evidence?

This study is a retrospective cross-sectional investigation to compare the rejuvenating and anti-ageing effects among a Tai Chi group (TCC) and a brisk walking group (BW) and a no exercise habit group (NEH) of volunteers. Thirty-two participants were separated into three groups: the TCC group (practicing TC for more than 1 year), the BW group (practicing BW for more than 1 year), and the NEH group. The CD34+ cell counts in peripheral blood of the participants was determined, and the Kruskal‐Wallis test was used to evaluate and compare the antiaging effects of the three groups. The results show that the participants in the TCC group (N = 10) outperformed the NEH group (N = 12) with respect to the number of CD34+ progenitor cells. No significant difference was found between the TCC group and the BW group. The authors of this study conclude that TCC practice sustained for more than 1 year may be an intervention against aging as effective as BW in terms of its benefits on the improvement of CD34+ number.

I was alerted to this new paper by several rather sensational headlines in the daily press which stated that Tai chi (TC) had anti-aging effects. So I searched for the press release about the article where I found the following quotes:

“It is possible that Tai Chi may prompt vasodilation and increase blood flow,” said Lin. “Considering that BW may require a larger space or more equipment, Tai Chi seems to be an easier and more convenient choice of anti-aging exercise.” “This study provides the first step into providing scientific evidence for the possible health benefits of Tai Chi.” said Dr. Paul R. Sanberg, distinguished professor at the Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair, Morsani College of Medicine, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL. “Further study of how Tai Chi can elicit benefit in different populations and on different parameters of aging are necessary to determine its full impact.”

Personally, I find both the press release and the original conclusions of the authors quite amazing. If anyone wanted to write a textbook on how not to do such things, he/she could use them as excellent examples.

Seen with just a tinge of critical thinking the paper reports a flimsy case-control study comparing three obviously self-selected groups of people who had chosen to follow different exercise regimen for several months. In all likelihood they also differed in terms of life-style, nutrition, sleeping pattern, alcohol intake, smoking habits and a million other things. These rather tiny groups were then compared according to a surrogate measure for ageing and some differences were identified.

BIG DEAL!

To conclude from this, or even to imply, that TC has anti-ageing effects is as far-fetched as claiming the tooth fairy has money problems.

This story could be just funny or trivial or boring – however, I think, it is also a bit worrying. It shows, I fear, how uncritical researchers in conjunction with some naïve press officer are able to induce silly journalists and headline-writers to mislead the public.

10 Responses to Tai chi, for a longer life?

  • EE, it seems you don’t fancy almost everything that involves some movement, breathing and stretching like yoga and tai-chi. I have a feeling, based on reading your “blog” entries, that eating healthfully, other than a bran muffin is not high on your to-do list?

    So tell me, EE, what activities do you personally engage in, other than finger exercises on your keyboard and high tea in a cozy chair, that might benefit your health, help you live longer and help you age gracefully?

    Thanks

  • So which activities involving movement do you participate in on a regular basis that would enhance your health, live longer, be healthier and age gracefully?

    • I really don’t see why this should be any of your business

      • Well, EE, I was just wondering if you might be doing anything to enhance your health, help you possibly live longer and age more gracefully, improve your energy, help you regain your flexibility, improve your memory, sleep better, etc., etc., that is not backed up by a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study.

        That’s all.

        • and I am beginning to wonder when you might grow up

        • What does it matter to you? He can do whatever he wants to achieve whatever he feels he gets as long as he doesn’t fill people full of shit about it.

          As far as i can tell no one on this site wants to stop anything apart from people making false claims/benefits. You can pick your nose and stand on one leg. If you think it does you good it probably does. Just don’t make up some fuck wit explanation for non specific placebo effects.

  • EE wrote: “and I am beginning to wonder when you might grow up”

    Thank you for your concern for my well-being, EE.

    Well, who knows when I might grow up? I do many things that hopefully will tip the scales in favor of my being healthier, have less disease and illness and hopefully will help me to stay young and add years to my life. But who knows? No guarantees, you know. Just trying to hedge my bet for a healthier life.

    • Following are the ten commandments of rational debate.
      I believe SDP has violated most if not all of them in the recent weeks.

      The list is widely spread on the internet and easily found . This version includes didactic examples.

      1. Thou shall not attack the person’s character, but the argument itself. (“Ad hominem”)

      Example: Dave listens to Marilyn Manson, therefore his arguments against certain parts of religion are worthless. After all, would you trust someone who listens to that devil worshiper?

      2. Thou shall not misrepresent or exaggerate a person’s argument in order to make them easier to attack. (“Straw Man Fallacy”)

      Example: After Jimmy said that we should put more money into health and education, Steve responded by saying that he was surprised that Jimmy hates our country so much that he wants to leave it defenceless by cutting military spending.

      3. Thou shall not use small numbers to represent the whole. (“Hasty Generalization”)

      Example: Climate Change Deniers take a small sample set of data to demonstrate that the Earth is cooling, not warming. They do this by zooming in on 10 years of data, ignoring the trend that is present in the entire data set which spans a century.

      4. Thou shall not argue thy position by assuming one of its premises is true. (“Begging the Question”)

      Example:

      Sheldon: “God must exist.”
      Wilbert: “How do you know?”
      Sheldon: “Because the Bible says so.”
      Wilbert: “Why should I believe the Bible?”
      Sheldon: “Because the Bible was written by God.”
      Wilbert: “WTF?”

      Here, Sheldon is making the assumption that the Bible is true, therefore his premise – that God exists – is also true.

      5. Thou shall not claim that because something occurred before, but must be the cause. (“Post Hoc/False Cause”).

      This can also be read as “correlation does not imply causation”.

      Example: There were 3 murders in Dallas this week and on each day, it was raining. Therefore, murders occur on rainy days.

      6. Thou shall not reduce the argument down to only two possibilities when there is a clear middle ground. (“False Dichotomy”)

      Example: You’re either with me, or against me. Being neutral is not an option.

      7. Thou shall not argue that because of our ignorance, the claim must be true or false. (“Ad Ignorantiam”).

      Example: 95% of unidentified flying objects have been explained. 5% have not. Therefore, the 5% that are unexplained prove that aliens exist.

      8. Thou shall not lay the burn of proof onto him that is questioning the claim. (“Burden of Proof Reversal”).

      Example: Marcy claims she sees the ghosts of dead people, then challenges you to prove her wrong. The burden of proof is on Marcy, not you, since Marcy made the extraordinary claim.

      9. Thou shall not assume that “this” follows “that”, when “it” has no logical connection. (“Non Sequitur”).

      Similar, but the difference between the post hoc and non sequitur fallacies is that, whereas the post hoc fallacy is due to lack of a causal connection, in the non sequitur fallacy, the error is due to lack of a logical connection.

      Example: If you do not buy this Vitamin X supplements for your infant, you are neglecting your her.

      10. Thou shall not claim that because a premise is popular, therefore, it must be true. (“Bandwagon Fallacy”).

      Example: Just because a celebrity like Dr. Oz endorses a product, it doesn’t make it any more legitimate.

  • Nur Glauben handeln können ? Only faith can act !

    Natural therapies: no clear evidence of health benefits, government review finds

    “…..There is no clear evidence that natural therapies are effective, a government review says, prompting calls for taxpayers and private health insurers to stop paying for them.
    A Department of Health review of 17 therapies covered by private insurance released on Monday stated it could not conclude that any worked.
    While there was “low to moderate quality” evidence that some therapies – for example, massage therapy, yoga and tai chi – may have some health benefits, overall “there was not reliable, high-quality evidence available to allow assessment of the clinical effectiveness of any of the natural therapies for any health conditions”, the report, by Chief Medical Officer Chris Baggoley….”

    http://www.canberratimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/natural-therapies-no-clear-evidence-of-health-benefits-government-review-finds-20151116-gl07cp.html

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