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Tai Chi May Help Gait Health of Older Adults

December 21, 2017 - Multiple branches of Harvard Medical School worked together to determine if Tai Chi (TC) has an impact on long-range correlations and fractal-like scaling in gait stride time dynamics, previously shown to be associated with aging, neurodegenerative disease, and fall risk.

Using Detrended Fluctuation Analysis (DFA), this study evaluated the impact of TC mind-body exercise training on stride time dynamics assessed during 10 minute bouts of over-ground walking. A hybrid study design investigated long-term effects of TC via a cross-sectional comparison of 27 TC experts (experience ranging from 13 to 36 years) and 60 age- and gender matched TC-naive older adults (50-70 years). Shorter-term effects of TC were assessed by randomly allocating TC-naive participants to either 6 months of TC training or to a waitlist control. The alpha (?) long-range scaling coefficient derived from DFA and gait speed were evaluated as outcomes.

Cross-sectional comparisons using confounder adjusted linear models suggest that TC experts exhibited significantly greater long-range scaling of gait stride time dynamics compared with TC-naive adults. Longitudinal random-slopes with shared baseline models accounting for multiple confounders suggest that the effects of shorter-term TC training on gait dynamics were not statistically significant, but trended in the same direction as longer-term effects although effect sizes were very small. In contrast, gait speed was unaffected in both cross-sectional and longitudinal comparisons.

These preliminary findings suggest that fractal-like measures of gait health may be sufficiently precise to capture the positive effects of exercise in the form of Tai Chi, thus warranting further investigation. These results motivate larger and longer-duration trials, in both healthy and health-challenged populations, to further evaluate the potential of Tai Chi to restore age-related declines in gait dynamics.

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