Can Tai Chi Reduce Waist Circumference For The Practitioners?

NBC News

People have constantly searched for ways to lose weight. Some choose to count calories, others get into different forms of exercise, and then there are also those that choose to do both. And while waist circumference is a reliable proxy when it comes to central obesity, there are specific exercises that actually target this problem.

Many believe that tai chi, a low impact exercise, is effective when it comes to reducing those inches around the waistline. In fact, recent studies show that this may actually be as effective as conventional exercises. And this may be better for those who try to stay away from high-impact workout routines.


Studies Made

In the most recent study made, researchers came up with the conclusion that tai chi is as effective as conventional exercise when it comes to reducing waist circumference. The findings of this research appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine. They provided evidence for including tai chi when it comes to global physical activity guidelines.

Reducing Waist Circumference

As stated in the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who suffer from obesity are at greater risk of developing serious conditions namely hypertension, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

In order for doctors to determine the presence of obesity, they measure a person’s body mass index (BMI). For those who are unfamiliar with how BMI is measured, it is with the ratio between their height and their weight. Aside from the body mass, researchers also suggest that the location of fat deposits in the body, especially in the abdomen area is also a risk factor when it comes to likelihood of a disease. This is otherwise known as central obesity. Nonetheless, a person who does suffer from obesity could still have significant fat deposits in their abdomen for this to be considered risky.

A reliable and effective proxy when it comes to determining the amount of fat deposits in the abdomen is to measure waist circumference. According to a recent made on this, it is stated, “Decreases in waist circumference are a critically important treatment target for reducing adverse health risks for both men and women.”


The Rising Popularity of Tai Chi

What exactly is tai chi? Many have seen groups of people practicing this. In gist, this is a mind-body practice that first started in China. It is also popular all throughout other Asian countries. Tai chi has been named because it means “moving meditation.” The practice combines breathing and meditation when executed. It has become more popular in the rest of the world nowadays. In fact,  as of 2007, over 2 million people  in the United States have learned the art.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, tai chi makes use of “certain postures and gentle movements with mental focus, breathing, and relaxation.” This can be especially vital when it comes to improving balance and stability, and reducing back and knee pain. For those looking for a gentle way to lose weight, tai chi is a low impact form of physical activity. It can be practiced by those who find vigorous exercises more challenging and who are looking for better options. However, its importance in specifically reducing waist circumference has not been made clear. That is, until recently.


Over 500 Participants Involved

In order to answer questions about health and to get clearer answers, a team of researchers in Hong Kong conducted a study between February 27, 2016, and March 17, 2018. They recruited participants over the age of years with problems of central obesity. They got a total of 543 people to agree and participate in the study.

Afterwards, the researchers randomly assigned those who took who took part to one of three groups of equal numbers.

  1. The first group took a 12-week, instructor-led tai chi course and met for an hour thrice weekly.
  2. The second group took an instructor-led moderate exercise class, meeting thrice weekly for an hour. This took place over a 12-week period. This class also included brisk walking and muscle strengthening as part of their activity.
  3. The third group did not have any physical activity to do. Hence, they acted as the control group.

The following criteria was measured:

  • Waist circumference
  • Body weight
  • BMI
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level
  • Triglyceride level
  • Plasma glucose level
  • Blood pressure

These measurements were checked thrice: before the intervention, upon completion of the intervention, and 6 months after the completion.


Noticeable Waist Circumference Reduction

The researchers came up with interesting findings after the research was conducted. They found that the waist circumference of the participants in the tai chi and conventional exercise groups decreased relatively when compared to those in the control group. The first two groups showed no significant differences from each other at the end.

The researchers also observed a decrease of HDL cholesterol levels. All things considered, this is a positive sign when it comes to the person’s metabolic health. Moreover, body mass also slightly decreased for the first two exercise groups. On the other hand, other measures of metabolic health showed no changes. Corresponding study author Dr. Parco M. Siu, from the University of Hong Kong in Pok Fu Lam, talked to Medical News Today and said, “Although some previous preliminary research suggested that tai chi led to favorable changes in cardiometabolic parameters, our study did not replicate the beneficial effects on those parameters in older adults with central obesity, except for HDL [cholesterol].” He also added, “It could be due to the specific inclusion criterion (i.e., central obesity) in our study or the different combinations of cardiometabolic parameters that existed in our participants at baseline. Further research addressing how cardiovascular risk factors affect tai chi’s effects on metabolic parameters are needed.”

A Gentle Low-Impact Exercise

Dr. Siu told MNT that the results are especially of value for “everyone who would like to improve [their] health by regularly participating in exercise — particularly those who do not like conventional exercise, including aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening exercise.” He further talked about the findings and said, “Our study shows that tai chi can be an effective alternative to conventional exercise in the management of central obesity. This is good news for middle-aged and older adults who have central obesity but may be averse to conventional exercise due to preference or limited mobility.”

According to Dr. Siu, “The key point is that people can have an option, such as tai chi, for managing central obesity and metabolic syndrome if they do not prefer conventional exercise.”

The doctor believes that the team’s findings will contribute to the surfacing evidence of the various health benefits that come with tai chi. He explained, “While it is known to be a suitable activity for older people, including those who are not active, there previously has been little evidence of tai chi’s health benefits. Nonetheless, tai chi, a gentle form of physical activity, has been shown to have various health benefits including fall prevention, osteoarthritis management, cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal fitness, cardiometabolic health, and psychological health.”

Dr. Siu also continued to explain, “Future research is needed to fully reveal the health benefits of tai chi. Of note, preliminary studies have shown the favorable effects of tai chi on brain health, such as mood and cognition. It would be interesting to further investigate the brain health benefits of tai chi.”

The researchers behind the study hope that they have provided sufficient evidence for including this form of exercise in global physical activity guidelines, especially for the older population who suffer from central obesity.