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Kinematics and Energy Expenditure of Sitting Tai Chi

By Lee KY, Jones AY, Hui-Chan CW, Tsang WW

Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, China .

August 28, 2011 - The positive effects of Tai Chi exercise on various physical and psychological dimensions including muscle strength, balance control, fall risk, functional status, and aerobic capacity have been thoroughly documented. However, traditional Tai Chi forms are difficult for older adults with poor standing balance or who are physically dependent, and may increase the risk f falling or injuries.
This study was therefore designed to analyze the kinematics of a newly designed 12-form sitting Tai Chi and compare them with conventional Tai Chi forms. Oxygen costs in (1) sitting, (2) sitting with sandbags restraining the limbs, (3) standing without lower limb movement, and (4) traditional standing were quantified.
A 12-form sitting Tai Chi routine designed by the investigators with an experienced Tai Chi master was tested. This routine was derived from Yang’s style of the classic long-form Tai Chi. Its components were selected to encourage trunk, upper limb, and some lower limb movements. The sitting forms aimed to enhance control in weight shifting in different directions, and promote sensorimotor-coordination involving the eyes, head, hands and trunk in a smooth and coordinated manner. The 12 forms of the sitting Tai Chi routine can be completed in about 3 minutes.
Knowledge of the kinematics characteristics of each sitting Tai Chi form provides information useful for selecting forms for individuals with different capabilities, and it provides general guidelines for progression. For instance, balance training can be progressed from forms with smaller displacements to larger excursions, depending on the degree of fragility.  To further progress, various forms can be performed in a less stable sitting condition, such as on a cushion or even a wobble board if balance training is the therapeutic objectives.
The energy expenditure results indicate that sitting Tai Chi is a low-intensity exercise, which is in line with the findings of other studies. As expected, energy expenditure increased from the sitting to the standing position. Also, the sitting Tai Chi with sandbags, which are commonly used in rehabilitation therapy, demands more energy expenditure. These data provide a guideline for clinicians or practitioners selecting conditions/positions to suit different functional and aerobic needs in the rehabilitation process.
This has been the first study investigating a newly designed sitting Tai chi routine that targets improving the balance control and cardiopulmonary function of subjects who have difficulty performing traditional standing Tai Chi. However, only 1 Tai Chi master was involved. Further studies recruiting a larger sample and different degrees of frailty or disability will be necessary to ascertain the kinematics and determine the precise energy costs.
* This study is published in the August 2011 issue of Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.




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