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Tai Chi Improves Balance in People with Parkinson’s

Tai chi may improve balance and reduce falls in people with Parkinson’s disease (PD), according to research published in the February 9 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. In tai chi, participants perform postures that flow from one to the next in a slow, graceful manner. Fuzhong Li, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene, OR, questioned whether tai chi might also improve postural stability — the ability to maintain balance while standing — in people with Parkinson’s.

They randomly assigned 195 people with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s to one of three groups: tai chi, resistance training or stretching. Each group attended a 60-minute class twice weekly for 24 weeks. Researchers assessed each person’s improvement in tests of postural stability and other characteristics, such as gait, strength and number of falls.


  • The tai chi group outperformed the other groups in two key indicators of postural stability: maximum excursion (how far a participant could lean in each of eight directions without falling) and directional control (how efficiently they could move toward a target).
  • The tai chi group performed better than the stretching group in activities such as gait, strength and a timed up-and-go test (how fast a person could rise from a chair, walk 10 feet, return and sit down).
  • Although similar to the resistance-training group according to many of the measures, the tai chi group performed better than the resistance-training group in two categories: stride length and functional reach

What Does It Mean?
This study demonstrates that tai chi may be more effective than stretching or resistance-training programs in improving postural stability and other activities of daily living in people with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s. These improvements could enhance a person’s ability to perform activities such as reaching for objects in a cabinet, and also reduce the chances of falling. The researchers suggest that tai chi may improve postural stability by increasing the ability of subjects to sway at the ankle or hip to correct imbalances, or by improving their control of movement as they approach their limit of stability. Christopher Goetz, M.D., Chair of PDF's Medical Policy Committee and member of PDF’s Scientific Advisory Board, noted, "Trainers must be vigilant to the postural and balance challenges that people with Parkinson's endure, so that the exercises and maneuvers that are part of the program must be carefully individualized to the patient."

Diet Affects Likelihood of Developing Parkinson’s Disease

Two new studies — one carried out at a PDF Research Center at Columbia University in New York and published in the journal Movement Disorders and another carried out at hospitals in Japan and published in the European Journal of Neurology — have confirmed that adherence to a particular type of diet is associated with reduced odds of having Parkinson’s. Previous research suggested that a diet high in vegetables, whole grains, fruits and legumes along with moderately high levels of fish but low to moderate levels of dairy, meat and poultry — the so-called “Mediterranean-style diet” — is linked to a lower chance of developing Parkinson’s. However, these studies often focused on one specific food item or nutrient. In the new studies, researchers from a Japanese consortium called the Fukuoka Kinki Parkinson’s Disease Study Group in Japan and a group at Columbia University led by Roy Alcalay, M.D., M.Sc., followed up on those findings to understand the impact of the total diet. They recruited groups of people with and without Parkinson’s, and used surveys to collect data on what people in each group ate.


  • Both studies found that eating a Mediterranean-style diet is indeed associated with significantlyreduced odds of developing Parkinson’s.
  • The New York study found that, among people with Parkinson’s, those who did not follow the Mediterranean-style diet developed the disease earlier in life than those who did follow the diet.
  • In the Japanese study, a diet that was characterized by a high intake of vegetables, seaweed, pulses, mushrooms, fruits and fish was inversely associated with the risk of PD with a border-line significance.

What Does It Mean?
These studies add to the body of research that has found a relationship between diet and neurodegenerative diseases. The authors emphasize that they focused on the total diet in relationship to Parkinson’s, not on single food items or nutrients, such as vitamin D.

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*The two science stories in this issue of News & Review are abbreviated.  See full stories.