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Tai Chi: An Ideal Exercise for Many People with Diabetes

Are you looking for more ways to manage your diabetes beyond diet and medication? Studies have shown that exercise can help lower blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol. Being physically active can also help insulin work better, improve circulation and keep joints flexible.

If you have diabetes, experts routinely advise an exercise plan that combines aerobics, strength training and flexibility for people with diabetes. And now, there's news that tai chi may fit the bill on all those counts.

Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that combines deep breathing and relaxation with flowing, gentle movements. It has been practiced widely in China for hundreds of years as a form of meditation, exercise and self-defense. It has steadily been gaining popularity in the U.S. Now some recent research has linked this ancient exercise to improved blood sugar control for type 2 diabetes.

Benefits of tai chi
Tai chi can range from low to moderate in physical intensity, depending on your level. As with other forms of moderate exercise, tai chi most likely helps to lower blood glucose by removing sugar from the bloodstream (and into the muscles), where it is used for fuel. In addition:

* Tai chi may improve flexibility and balance, and can raise energy levels. This is important for people with diabetes.
* Tai chi is a low-impact workout. This makes it a good choice if you have to avoid high-impact exercise due to pain or pressure in your legs and feet.
* Tai chi does more than just providing physical exercise. It also emphasizes mental relaxation and has been shown to help reduce stress.
* Diabetics are at greater risk for heart disease. Some clinical studies have shown that tai chi produces measurable benefits in lowering blood pressure and improving heart health.
* Sleep problems are common among people with diabetes. Tai chi has been shown to help people get a better night's rest.
* Though tai chi can be beneficial at any age, diabetics who are elderly may find it a welcome choice. The gentle movements can be practiced without placing a strain on the body.
* Experts also advise strength training for diabetics along with cardio exercise. Clinical trials suggest that tai chi improves muscle mass, tone, stamina and strength in older adults.
* Diabetics, especially older women, are thought to be at increased risk of fractures from falls. Some studies have suggested that tai chi may be effective in decreasing the number of falls, the risk for falling and the fear of falling.

Learning tai chi
If you are considering learning tai chi,be sure to talk to your doctor first. Look for classes at a local martial arts school. Community centers, recreation departments and many fitness clubs and Y's also offer classes. Be sure to talk with the instructor privately about your diabetes or any other medical conditions or limitations you may have.

The truth is that most any type of exercise can help to manage diabetes. So, keep on walking or biking if that's more to your liking than tai chi. Always talk to your doctor before you change or increase your activity level. The important thing is to find an activity you enjoy, as well as one that suits your needs and limitations.


* Liu X, Miller YD, Burton NW, Brown WJ. Preliminary study of the effect of Tai Chi and Qigong medical exercise on indicators of metabolic syndrome and glycaemic control in adults with raised blood glucose levels. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2009;43(11):840-844. Accessed: 01/27/2010

* Centers for Disease Control. Exercise and diabetes: frequently asked questions. Accessed: 01/27/2010

* American Diabetes Association. Better sleep means better health. Accessed: 01/27/2010

* Sigal RJ, Kenny GP, Boule NG, et al. Effects of aerobic training, resistance training, or both on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes: a randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2007;147(6):357-369. Accessed: 01/27/2010

* Yeh SH, Chuang H, Lin LW, et al. Regular tai chi chuan exercise improves T cell helper function of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus with an increase in T-bet transcription factor and IL-12 production. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2009;43(11):845-850.