December 3, 2001
Study: Can martial arts help whip Parkinson's?
By Janet Christenbury
Ancient Chinese martial arts forms have been popular exercises used by
seniors for years. Many find that the regular practice of these various
martial arts helps improve balance, strength and body awareness.
Now, researchers at Emory are studying just how effective two Chinese
mind-body exercises, Tai Chi and Qi Gong (pronounced Kai Gong), may be
in patients with Parkinsons disease. The goal is to determine if
these exercise modalities can improve the motor and nonmotor disabilities
associated with the disease. Investigators also intend to compare whether
the potential benefits accrued from these Eastern exercise
forms differ from those we assume can be gained from more Western
forms, such as aerobic exercises.
Participants in this trial are taught to train their minds as much
as to train their bodies, said Jorge Juncos, associate professor
of neurology and the studys principal investigator. Our goal
is to find out if these Chinese mind-body modalities can actually improve
the many aspects of quality of life adversely affected in Parkinsons
The trial is one of three new studies in the Emory Center for Research
on Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Neurodegenerative Diseases.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the
National Institutes of Health recently awarded Emory a five-year grant
for the Center and three individual research grants totaling $5.7 million.
Participants taking part in this controlled, double-blind study are randomized
into three groups. One-third will learn Tai Chi, described as meditation
in movement using controlled breathing combined with a slow and precise
flow of body postures. One-third will learn Qi Gong, described as meditation
in stillness during which participants learn to better control their movements
through directed visualization (imagery), meditation and controlled breathing.
The remaining one-third will take part in an aerobic exercise program.
All participants will exercise for two hours a week in two sessions.
The study will last for 16 weeks with two weeks of evaluations before
and after the classes. Researchers will follow the participants for six
months after the study to determine how many continued to pursue their
designated exercise outside of the trial. They will also look at long-term
behavior and analyze their progress following the study.
Another goal of the study is to examine the importance of caloric
expenditure, or burning calories through exercise, and its benefits on
motor function that may result from exercise in Parkinsons disease,
said Juncos, who has done extensive research with Parkinsons patients
over the years.
Participants learning Qi Gong will experience low caloric expenditure,
since little movement is required for the exercise. Those learning Tai
Chi will experience a moderate level of expenditure, and those in the
aerobic exercise group will burn significantly more calories, since they
will walk and bicycle in the gym.
Researchers at Georgia Tech are working in collaboration with Emory researchers
on this study.
Participants will spend time at the Georgia Tech Center for Human
Movement Studies, or gait lab, before and after the 16-week exercise sessions,
said Steven Wolf, professor of rehabilitation medicine at Emory and co-principal
investigator. They will undergo a number of tests and evaluations
in the movement analysis core of the trial. Gait and balance statistics
will be recorded and analyzed under the supervision of myself and Robert
Gregor, director of the Georgia Tech center.
Wolf has previously studied the effects of Tai Chi on the elderly. A
three-year investigation, which concluded in 1994, found that practicing
Tai Chi significantly reduces the risk of falls among older people and
may be beneficial in maintaining strength in people age 70 and older.
Participants in the study must have early to moderately advanced Parkinsons
disease. They must also be between the ages of 40 and 85, on stable medication
treatment and not engaged in regular intense exercise more than twice
a week. They must be able to walk independently most of the day and be
capable of traveling to and from Emory during the 16-week trial.
To learn more about this study, call Emory Health Connection at 404-778-7777.