Can Tai Chi Help People With Terminal Illness

Terminally ill patients must cope with a variety of physical symptoms and mental challenges. Some of the physical symptoms are related to their illness while others may be associated with their medical treatment regimen. The debilitating effects of a terminal disease and treatment may cause anxiety and depression in patients.


For terminally ill patients, Tai Chi can offer a broad range of relief. By practicing Tai Chi, they access its benefits and ideally offset some of their illness and treatment related symptoms. Tai Chi's ability to provide physical benefits, systemic benefits and mental benefits make it an ideal complementary treatment for patients managing a terminal illness.


Why Tai Chi?


It Works


Tai Chi has been practiced in China for over 5,000 years. Five traditional styles of Tai Chi exist; there are many offshoots based on these traditional lineages. Modern studies and historical anecdotal evidence show the efficacy of Tai Chi for preserving the health and longevity of practitioners.


Offers a Combination of Mind-body Practices


When people practice Tai Chi, they do more than perform physical exercises. Tai Chi's structure includes the application of deep breathing and meditative techniques. Practitioners receive the benefits of three forms of complementary therapy in one exercise: deep breathing, meditation and a physical workout.


Tai Chi is based on the concept of energy management. By breathing deeply and performing prescribed movements slowly, practitioners build and direct their chi or life force in order to facilitate health and longevity. Along with general meditative states, the practice incorporates some visualization as practitioners direct the chi in their bodies for health and healing.




Tai Chi's beneficial effects on health are well documented. Current scientific studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health and other medical bodies are finding support for these benefits:


  • Improves flexibility, agility and balance
  • Improves muscle strength and definition
  • Decreases stress and lowers anxiety levels
  • Builds cardiovascular strength and capacity
  • Build energy and endurance levels
  • Improves sleep quality
  • Improves immune system
  • Lowers in cholesterol levels and lowers blood pressure
  • Assists with joint pain management
  • Alleviates congestive heart failure symptoms
  • For older adults, their overall sense of well-being improves
  • Decreases falling incidents for older adults


Tai Chi prevents and offers therapeutic relief for a variety of ailments. It strengthens the immune response and supports the central nervous system, which helps with treating:


  • Elevated Blood Pressure
  • Heart Disease
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Sleep Problems
  • Chronic Pain
  • Infections
  • Depressive Symptoms
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Gout
  • Type 2 Diabetes


Considerations In Treating The Terminally Ill


Medical professionals treating terminally ill patients must take many factors into consideration. The physical symptoms and medicinal side effects experienced by patients vary depending on their diagnosis. Their level of physical function also changes during the course of the illness. The protracted nature of terminal illness, its treatment, and its final outcome causes patients and caregivers to experience bouts of depression and anxiety.


Tai Chi is highly adaptive. The style of Tai Chi practiced and the length of the practice may be adjusted to meet and improve the capacity of a patient. Along with consisting of a variety of styles, Tai Chi also includes long and short form practices.


A cancer patient suffering from fatigue could practice a short form to improve their energy levels and sleep quality. A recently diagnosed patient with relatively good physical function and energy levels could practice a long form for health maintenance and possible improvement.


At the very least, Tai Chi can improve the overall wellbeing and mental outlook of those dealing with disease and the proposition of death. With its profound ability to calm the mind, Tai Chi provides the practitioner with an increased ability to cope with stressors, and enjoy a more positive attitude to their current situation. When anxiety, depression, and stress are reduced, healing is accelerated and the boost to mental and emotional wellbeing can be profound.


It is well documented that a positive outlook and peace of mind can allow people to cope better with any challenges they may face.


Breast Cancer Patients


Tai Chi has been shown to enhance the functional capacity of women with breast cancer in their physical capability, day-to-day living, and overall quality of life.


Breast cancer victims practiced Tai Chi for 12 weeks while monitored at the University of Rochester. The results showed that these women increased their physical capabilities and enjoyed a better quality of life, improved flexibility, and aerobic ability, while these capabilities actually declined in the control group that only used supportive therapy.


Bottom Line


Tai Chi's wide-ranging benefits make it an ideal complementary therapy for terminally ill patients. It helps treat many of the physical symptoms associated with terminal illness, fatigue, sleep issues, pain management and others. It also improves mental health and more importantly decreases depressive symptoms and anxiety. In short, Tai Chi has the potential to improve a terminally ill patient's quality of life if not their lifespan.