Can Chinese Mind-Body Exercises Help
Improve Mobility in Patients with Parkinson's Disease? Emory Researchers
Begin New Study to Find Out Answer
Ancient Chinese martial arts forms have been a popular
exercise 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 University are studying just how
effective two Chinese mind-body exercises, Tai Chi and Qi Gong (pronounced
Chi Gong), may be in patients with Parkinson's disease. The goal is
to determine if these exercise modalities can improve the motor and
non-motor 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 traditional "western" forms, such as aerobic exercises.
"Participants in this trial are taught to train their minds as much
as to train their bodies," says Jorge Juncos, M.D., associate professor
of neurology, Emory University School of Medicine and principal investigator
of this study. "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 Parkinson's disease."
The trial is one of three new studies in the Emory University Center
for Research on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) 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
Participants taking part in this controlled, double-blinded 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 a walk-cycle 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 Parkinson's disease,"
according to Dr. Juncos, who has done extensive research with Parkinson's
patients over the years. Those learning Qi Gong will experience low
caloric expenditure, since little movement is required for this exercise.
Those learning Tai Chi will experience a moderate level of caloric
expenditure, since their activities involve more action and movement.
Those in the aerobic exercise group will experience a higher still level
of caloric expenditure, since they will walk and bicycle in the gym.
Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology 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," says Steven Wolf, Ph.D., FAPTA, professor in the Department
of Rehabilitation Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine and
co-principal investigator of the Chinese modalities study. "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, Ph.D., director of
the Georgia Tech Center."
Dr. Wolf, professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Emory
University School of Medicine, has previously studied the effects of
Tai Chi on the elderly. A three-year investigation, which concluded
in 1994, found that Tai Chi exercises can significantly reduce 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 Parkinson's
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 16-weeks of
the trial. To learn more about this study, call Emory Health Connection
at (404) 778-7777.
Participants are also being recruited for two other studies in Emory's
CAM Center. The studies involve the use of Valerian root to treat sleep
disturbances in patients with Parkinson's disease and the use of repetitive
transcranial magnetic stimulation to relieve depression associated with