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Evaluating the effects of Tai Chi on physical fitness and mental health of the elderly

Nguyen, Manh Hung

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The aims of this study are to examine the effects of 24-form Tai Chi exercise in six months on physical fitness, blood pressure and perceived health as well as sleep quality, visual attention, and balance ability of older people living in dwelling community. This study is also aimed to compare differences in physical fitness and subjectively rated health between German and Vietnamese older adults in terms cross-cultural study between Vietnamese and German samples. The subjects were divided randomly into two groups, Training group and Control group. The subjects were expected to consent or volunteer. Participants in Training group (forty eight subjects ranging in age from 60 years to 80 (69.02±5.16) were assigned 6-months Tai Chi training in Vinh city, Vietnam. Participants in the control group (forty eight subjects ranging in age from 60 years to 79 (68.72±4.94) were instructed to maintain their routine daily activities and not to begin any new exercise programs. The SFT were used in an empirical process to assess the physical fitness. Blood circulations (heart beat, systole blood pressure, diastole blood pressure) and some anthropometrical indices (BMI, WHR, weight, height) were checked. The SF-36 was used to assess the changes of physical and mental health. Pittsburgh sleep quality index, the falls efficacy scale, and valuation of life were also tested in intervention periods. German sample included 159 people aged 72±6.1 living in 11 different cities of Germany. Results showed that 24 week Tai Chi program can be an alternative form of exercise for older adults. The 24-form Tai Chi brings physical and psychological benefits to older adults. Strength, aerobic fitness, flexibility, dynamic balance of people who engaged in Tai Chi program were remarkably improved. Blood pressure was also significantly improved except diastole blood pressure. The scores of self-report health in two domains of Short form 36 of Tai Chi group were better than Control group. This proved that physical and mental health was much improved after Tai Chi training. There was much improvement in balance in Tai Chi group and sleep quality, visual attention were enhanced with Tai Chi exercise as well. Tai Chi program has been demonstrating its benefits and effects on maintaining physical and mental functioning of older adults in community. It also enhances and promotes the elder adults’ to participate in Tai Chi in public. This study is also an initial comparison of physical fitness and mental health of the elderly between Vietnam and Germany. The results indicated that the Vietnamese elderly reported a better performance in physical fitness. However, there is no significant change in subjectively rated health. The study findings present a higher level of motor abilities in Vietnamese participants, which maintain a higher level over the age span and even tent do expand the distance of performance levels to German participants in the higher age group. The consequences for the German sample might results in an earlier loss of independence, social participation and general health. The higher levels of Vietnamese participants reflect a more active lifestyle throughout the whole life span, especially after retirement, which are not only reached by systematic physical activities like sports, but may be the result of a generally more challenging, physically active lifestyle in everyday activities. This could serve as an explanation for the convergence of life expectancy of Vietnam and Germany from birth (e0) to the age of 60 years (e60), stating that a physically active lifestyle is able to contribute to an extension of life expectancy in older age. German older people would profit by an enhancement of their physical demands in everyday life, and thus could use the potentials of their living conditions to full capacity. Researching the circumstances, situations and stimuli after retirement in different cultures could provide a basis for the future constitution of physically demanding living environments for older people. Over the 6-month Tai chi program, there was a 18.75% drop-out (not including the follow-up period) in Tai chi group. It is evident that relatively high rate of participants were likely to engage in Tai chi training. The attrition of participation was due mainly to travelling or leaving the city rather than dissatisfaction with the training program. Tai chi is low – technology exercise that can be easily carried out in variety of communities. However, it may be necessary to have skills for performing physical tests, because some participants found difficult to understand and perform the tests. Measurements for all physical tests should be more accurate and need more accurate devices in the laboratory with specialized machines. Some of the questionnaires are directly translated from English to Vietnamese which may lead participants to difficulty to have in understanding some of the questions. The study has a small sample size, a low-frequency training schedule of only twice per week. The Follow-up period should be longer in order to examine how long the effects of Tai Chi remain. Furthermore, we have used two research groups, while the Tai Chi group received treatment but the control group did not. The social effects and biased opinions resulting from individuals in both groups might be raised. It should be, therefore, comparative design that account for equal condition of intervention. Moreover, all participants come from urban areas which may not be representative for the whole Vietnamese population. This study also presents an initial step toward cross-cultural analysis of functional ability among the aged between Germany and Vietnam in the comparison of differences in physical fitness and subjectively rated health between German and Vietnamese older adults. Further research may take different directions or determinants such as health, social conditions and lifestyle. There are descriptive data differences in socio-demographic variables, especially in the examined age groups, and an imbalance of the total number of recruited participants between Vietnam and Germany.

Item Type: Dissertation
Supervisor: Kruse, Prof. Dr. Andreas
Place of Publication: Heidelberg, Germany
Date of thesis defense: 29 May 2013
Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2013 08:08
Date: 2013
Faculties / Institutes: The Faculty of Behavioural and Cultural Studies > Institut für Gerontologie
Subjects: 300 Social sciences
796 Athletic and outdoor sports and games
Controlled Keywords: Tai Chi, Mental health, Physical fitness, Cross-cultural comparison, empirical study
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