BOSTON — New research indicates that practicing tai chi can be an effective remedy for reducing symptoms for depression.
The study was carried out by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, who ran participants through a 12-week training course. Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that is commonly practiced to for its health benefits.
Co-author Albert Yeung, a Harvard psychiatry professor who also works in the Depression Clinical and Research Program in the hospital’s psychiatry department, explains that unlike previous research, the current study primarily focused on how tai chi effects diagnosed patients who suffer from depression.
“While some previous studies have suggested that tai chi may be useful in treating anxiety and depression, most have used it as a supplement to treatment for other medical conditions, rather than patients with depression,” says Yeung in a university news release. “Finding that tai chi can be effective is particularly significant because it is culturally accepted by this group of patients who tend to avoid conventional psychiatric treatment.”
A total of 50 Chinese-Americans were recruited for the study. Each participant had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, and had no history of any other psychiatric disorder. None of them had any recent form of psychiatric treatment, including martial arts, going in to the study.
Seventeen of the participants were placed in tai chi intervention, while the remainder of participants were placed into two separate control groups. One group participated in educational courses, and the other focused on repetitive assessment.
The three groups participated in follow-up assessment, which took place 24 weeks after the initial study.
The researchers found that those who attended tai chi training showed far better improvement of symptoms compared to those in the control groups. Yeung is hopeful that further research will be completed in order to expound upon the known benefits of practicing tai chi.
“If these findings are confirmed in larger studies at other sites, that would indicate that tai chi could be a primary depression treatment for Chinese and Chinese American patients, who rarely take advantage of mental health services, and may also help address the shortage of mental health practitioners,” he says.
Yeung also hopes that future research will investigate whether the martial art can also benefit people from other cultures and backgrounds.
The study’s findings were published in May in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.