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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.

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