Tai chi practice helps to improve health and functioning in older adults, studies show. But will seniors stick with the ancient martial art long enough to see benefits?

In a feasibility study aimed at improving chronic lower back pain, investigators questioned participants aged 65 and older who took 12 weeks of tai chi classes plus 24 weeks of maintenance classes. Health outcomes were compared with those of peers who received either health education or usual care. 

Among the tai chi group, recruitment went well, there were few dropouts, and the program had an excellent safety record. At 52 weeks, 70% of tai chi practitioners reported having practiced the week before – a “remarkable” result, said investigators from Kaiser Permanente Washington and the University of Washington, Seattle.

Meanwhile, about half of the tai chi group told researchers that they planned to continue practicing in the future.

“[T]he value of tai chi for older adults with chronic lower back pain remains worthy of investigation,” concluded Karen Sherman, Ph.D., and colleagues.

An estimated 12% of adults aged 65 and older experience chronic, disabling lower back pain.

The study was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.