Paris: A review of medical studies has found out that ancient martial art Tai Chi can help elderly people improve their mental health and avoid injuries from falls. But the study abstains from endorsing other claims made for the Chinese exercise.

And this is because slow movements associated with Tai Chi improve balance while its deep breathing techniques aid relaxation, according to the review carried out by British and South Korean researchers.

The researchers, who looked at 35 systematic reviews of Tai Chi published between 2002 and 2010, found "convincingly positive" evidence that Tai Chi helped elderly people improve their sense of balance and psychological wellbeing.

However, the ancient exercise found to be "ineffective" in treating cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis, a daily reported.

There were "contradictions" in the evidence regarding improvements in lung function, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other conditions, the researchers said.

In a paper, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the authors said: "Our overview showed that Tai Chi, which combines deep breathing and relaxation with slow and gentle movements, may exert exercise-based general benefits for fall prevention and improvement of balance in older people as well as some meditative effects for improving psychological health."

"We recommend Tai Chi for older people for its various physical and psychological benefits," they concluded.

Tai Chi was developed hundreds of years ago in China as a series of graceful physical movements combined with deep breathing, and is now thought to be practised by 2.5 million people around the world.

The martial art is based on the Confucian and Buddhist philosophy that the exercises can balance the opposing life forces of "yin and yang" that govern our health.

But the authors -- Dr Myeong Soo Lee at the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine and Prof Edzard Ernst of the Peninsula Medical School at the University of Exeter – said "regardless of these assumptions", the slow movements and short postures undoubtedly affect the muscles and circulatory system.

Because the "slow motion" martial art is now backed by several charities and support groups for sufferers of various diseases, the researchers looked back at the "uncertain" evidence for its clinical effectiveness. 

Of the 35 reviews they examined, the researchers found that 20 of them concluded Tai Chi "might be effective" while ight said it was not and seven were inconclusive, but some of the previous studies were said to be flawed.

There was a "relatively clear consensus" that Tai Chi "was effective for improving the general health of older people, improving psychological health, and for preventing falls", the authors said.

However, the reviews found little evidence that Tai Chi can relieve symptoms of cancer or rheumatoid arthritis.     

The authors also found that Tai Chi may not effectively treat inflammatory diseases, while there were "contradictions" in the evidence regarding improvements in lung capacity and lowering risk of heart disease.

(Agencies)