Making Tai Chi Studies Useful for the Community

The Translational Aspects of Tai Chi Studies
By: Dr Paul Lam




In recent years, many medical studies have shown tai chi to be effective for improving almost all aspects of health. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has listed many health benefit of tai chi, as well as the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. Medical studies are often too complex for most of us to understand fully, and to translate medical studies into real life practice in the community is extremely challenging. Having been involved with a number of medical studies I learned that to ensure tai chi studies are meaningful and useful to the community, the contents of the tai chi and the way it was taught should be carefully considered and monitored.

Tai Chi Contents

The points are worthy of some consideration before setting up the protocol of a tai chi study:
  • Ease to learn: The most popular tai chi set has 108 forms which would take an average person about two years to learn. The original Chen style would take a talented student 5-6 years full time to learn to a good standard. Clearly these are not suitable for most Tai Chi for health studies. A tai chi program (a set of tai chi) to be studied is best constructed and standardized by appropriate medical and tai chi experts to ensure it is easy enough for the majority of the target subjects to learn and benefit from in a relatively short period of time. In my experience, which correlates well with most studies, a one hour lesson twice a week for three months, plus regular practice most days per week, is a reasonable period to achieve this.
  • Effectiveness to produce health benefits: This depends on objectives of the study and the available time. An effective program should be chosen or designed by health professional and tai chi expert. Often medical experts don't understand tai chi and its effects and tai chi experts don't understand outcome measurements. It would be highly desirable to include someone who has knowledge of both areas. During the intervention period, it is important to allocate time for learning as well as practice. At the learning phase, subjects are unlike to gain much health benefits, so adequate time must be factored in the subjects to practice in order to gain measurable outcomes.
  • Safety: There are numerous forms of tai chi; many traditional forms have some high risk movements that required modification for elderly people and people with chronic conditions. It is unreasonable to expect any tai chi teacher, without appropriate training from health professionals, to devise the appropriate modifications for people with different conditions. A program designed with appropriate safety factors built in for the target population by medical and tai chi professionals has significant advantage.
  • Potential benefits to the community: Some tai chi forms are treated as secret while some forms have copyrights to the composition. A publicly funded study must ensure the design of the tai chi program being accessible to the community. It would be an advantage that there is an established training system available. For example, the Tai Chi for Arthritis program has a well established training system and many instructors trained through arthritis foundations, governmental health authorities and age care organizations around the world.

The Teachingsmall gp

Like medicine, there is much modern knowledge of effective teaching that were not available to the ancient Chinese tai chi teachers. These knowledge would enhance the efficacy and safety of tai chi programs.



  • Learner friendliness: A learner friendly teacher is more effectively at delivering health benefits or better outcome measurements.
  • Adherence: Effective teaching skill and the program's contents have significant impact on adherence. If most subjects leave the class there won't be creditable outcome measurements.
  • Motivation: A good teacher inspire and motivate students to practice and to enjoy tai chi. If people enjoy what they do, they will continue to practice tai chi.

Monitoring the Tai Chi contents and teaching quality

A monitoring mechanism and regular updates for the teachers to ensure the right contents being taught and taught effectively is essential, similar to most health and fitness professionals.