Evidence Summary

What is an Evidence Summary?

Key messages from scientific research that's ready to be acted on

Got It, Hide this
  • Rating:

Tai Chi appears to significantly reduce depressive symptoms in older adults

Chi I, Jordan-Marsh M, Guo M, et al. Tai chi and reduction of depressive symptoms for older adults: A meta-analysis of randomized trials Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2013;13:3-12.

Review question

How effective is Tai Chi in reducing depressive symptoms in older adults?


Depression is a significant mental health issue for older people. It can make other medical conditions worse, and lead to a poorer quality of life. Depression is not a single disease but a disorder characterized by multiple symptoms.

Exercise in general is recommended to reduce depressive symptoms, but not all forms of exercise are appropriate or feasible for older adults. Tai Chi has participants move through a routine of slow, structured movements. Tai Chi is also recommended for older adults to increase balance and mobility and prevent falls.

How the review was done

This systematic review and meta-analysis includes 4 randomized controlled trials published between 2001 and 2009 with 253 participants. Participants were 52 to 85 years old, and mostly women.

The interventions involved 2 to 3 one-hour Tai Chi classes per week, for 12 to 24 weeks. The intervention was compared against no exercise, another low-impact form of exercise, or health education.

Outcomes were assessed immediately after the intervention in 2 studies, and after 24 weeks in a third study, and 48 weeks in a fourth.

What the researchers found

At 12 weeks after the intervention, the Tai Chi group had significantly less depressive symptoms than the control group.

The studies that followed participants for 24 and 48 weeks showed a decrease in depressive symptoms but the difference was not statistically significant.


Tai Chi is recommended for reducing depressive symptoms in older adults. Due to the small effect demonstrated in this review, it is unlikely for Tai Chi to be recommended for depression without additional standard treatment such as therapy or medications.

The positive impact of Tai Chi is only maintained when Tai Chi is done regularly.

As a form of exercise, Tai Chi may be more appealing to older adults than other forms of exercise, and it has no demonstrated harms.


Control group
A group that receives either no treatment or a standard treatment.
Advanced statistical methods contrasting and combining results from different studies.
Randomized controlled trials
Studies where people are assigned to one of the treatments purely by chance.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

Related Evidence Summaries

Related Web Resources

  • Depression

    Informed Health Online
    Depression is a common mood disorder that can make it hard to cope with everyday life. Causes and risk factors for depression include genes, difficult experiences and life circumstances, chronic anxiety disorders, biochemical changes, medical problems, and lack of light. Psychological therapies (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy) and medication, alone or combination, are treatment options.
  • Medicines for Treating Depression: A Review of the Research for Adults

    This patient decision aid helps adults diagnosed as being depressed decide on the type of medicine by comparing the benefits, risks and side effects of each antidepressant.
  • Patient education: Delirium (Beyond the Basics)

    UpToDate - patient information
    Delirium is the result of brain changes that lead to confusion, lack of focus and memory problems. There is no specific treatment for delirium - it is best to avoid risks, treat underlying illnesses and receive supportive care. Sedatives and physical restraints should be avoided.
DISCLAIMER These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Register for free access to all Professional content