People with diabetes often assume that for exercise to be beneficial, you have to be huffing and puffing, sweating and red-faced afterwards," says Beverly Roberts, PhD, RN, a professor at University of Florida College of Nursing. "However, we found that a gentle activity such as tai chi can be just as beneficial in improving the health of people with diabetes."

Dr. Roberts is talking about a recent study that she and her colleagues conducted showing that regular practice of tai chi-an ancient martial art from China consisting of deep breathing and gentle, flowing movements can help you lower blood sugar, manage diabetes more effectively, improve mood and boost energy levels.

Tai Chi for Glucose Control

A team of researchers from Korea and the US studied 62 people with type 2 diabetes- 31 practiced tai chi twice a week, and 31 didn't.

After six months, those practicing tai chi had a greater drop in fasting blood sugar (a test that measures blood sugar after you haven't eaten for eight hours)... a bigger decrease in AlC (a measurement of long-term blood sugar levels)... more participation in diabetic self-care activities, such as daily measuring of glucose levels... happier social interactions... better mood... and more energy.

"For those with type 2 diabetes, tai chi could be an alternative exercise to increase glucose control, diabetic self-care activities and quality of life," conclude the researchers, in the journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

"Tai chi has similar effects as other exercises on diabetic control," says Dr. Roberts. "The difference is that tai chi is a low-impact exercise, which means that it's less stressful on the bones, joints and muscles than more strenuous exercise.

"Tai chi provides a great alternative for people who want the benefits of exercise on diabetic control, but may be physically unable to complete strenuous activities because of age, health condition or injury."

Helps in Several Ways

"These and other studies show that tai chi can have a significant effect on the management and treatment of diabetes," says Paul Lam, MD, of the University of South Wales School of Public Health, the author of five scientific studies on tai chi and diabetes.

"Tai chi can help with diabetes in several ways," he continues. "It can help you control blood sugar, reduce stress and minimize the complications of diabetes, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and the balance and mobility problems that accompany peripheral neuropathy."

Dr. Lam developed the tai chi program that was used in several studies on tai chi and diabetes-Tai Chi for Diabetes. It is available on DVD, and includes a complete tai chi routine, along with a warm-up, stretches, and qigong exercises (also from China) that increase the flow of chi (life force) in the parts of the body affected by diabetes.

Dr. Lam is also the coauthor of the book, Tai Chi for Diabetes: Living Well with Diabetes, which supplements the DVD.

Both the DVD and the book are available at You can also learn more about the Tai Chi for Diabetes program at Dr. Lam's website, where you can also order his DVD and book.

Also helpful: If you decide to take a tai chi class, look for an instructor who has practiced for at least three to four years, and who inspires you to the regular practice of tai chi, says Daniel Caulfield, a teacher of tai chi at Flow Martial and Meditative Arts, in Keene, New Hampshire. "The greatest benefit from tai chi comes from both taking a class with a qualified instructor and practicing at home at least 20 minutes a day."

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