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Tai Chi for Diabetes

Dec 30, 2008

Dr. Paul Lam, is a practicing physician and Tai Chi master. He has written a new book “Tai Chi for Diabetes” and our current intern Irene Lelekis, Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate University of Florida College of Pharmacy, has experienced what the book has to offer and shares her reasons that this would be a great book for your patients.

“Tai Chi for Diabetes”

Reviewed by Irene Lelekis, Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate University of Florida College of Pharmacy

“Tai Chi for Diabetes” is a useful source for pre-diabetic and diabetic patients who are looking to obtain a better quality of life.  Not only does it promote slow and steady exercise routines, it encourages good nutrition, and becomes a way of life for patients with and without diabetes. If you choose to teach Tai Chi, the book gives a detailed explanation of diabetes and how to safely and effectively incorporate the exercises into ones daily routine.

altThe author, Dr. Paul Lam, is a practicing physician and Tai Chi master for thirty years. He has created several Tai Chi health programs to improve people’s well being. Dr. Pat Phillips is the Senior Director of Endocrinology with a diabetes focus at the Central Northern Adelaide Health Service in Southern Australia. This book can be supplemented with the instructional DVD that facilitates learning. The structure of book is presented in four parts: what diabetes is and how to manage it to get the best possible quality of life; the healing power of Tai Chi; the Tai Chi for Diabetes program and how it integrates into a person’s daily routine; and useful resources to live well with your condition.

The first section, which is titled as “Diabetes Explained”, focused on reviewing both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. It included the epidemiology, etiology, management of signs and symptoms, and lifestyle modifications, which emphasized diet and proper exercise. The authors gave a lot of background information on diabetes, which indirectly emphasized that no one thing will cure diabetes. Instead, a compilation of therapeutic interventions will build the foundation for successful management.

Within the first section, the authors explained that eating complex carbohydrates, coupled with small amounts throughout the day, will increase the sensitization of insulin. Consequently, it will help “maintain balance”; that is, keeping your blood glucose within a certain range. However, the authors were not specific on which fruits are complex and simple, nor did they give amounts of carbohydrates per serving per fruit. For example, in the case of a hypoglycemic episode, the only treatment mentioned was jellybeans or some other source of glucose. The authors explained how different medications affect insulin and any associated side effects, which gives a more complete picture of the disease state.

The concept of Tai Chi is introduced in the first section as a slow and effective means of exercise while also reducing stress. The authors point out that since it is an “easier” exercise, patients are more likely to adhere. Tai Chi is a type of therapy that connects the mind with the body. It aims to coordinate calm mental state with a strong and healthy physical state. As a result, Tai Chi is a method to reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, and strengthen ones muscles including the heart.

The art of Tai Chi becomes more elaborate and real in the second section, or “The Healing Power of Tai Chi”. The chapter initially describes what Tai Chi is, explaining how a combination of physical and mental exercises promotes balance and harmony with nature. It emphasizes the importance of a strong mind, which manifests into a strong body inside and out. The types of movements are slow and gentle, which counteract the fast-paced characteristic of our society. They are curved and soft instead of most sports that take on a “straight line”. So why does this type of non-conventional exercise work for diabetic patients? People like it because it is inexpensive, safe, and easy to learn. It also requires a short amount of time each day, and can be done with just about any physical condition. Other benefits include increasing concentration and focus, improving mood, and attaining empowerment.

The book helps establish the right mindset before starting the program. It is written in an encouraging manner that teaches a person not to get frustrated if it takes time to learn the exercises. Health benefits start to show after 3 months, so patience is important when looking at outcomes. The longer that a person practices, the easier it is, and the more health benefits one attains. While it can motivate people to define and set health-related goals, it is most useful if you want to use Tai Chi to achieve those goals.

Not only do the authors create the proper mindset, they help you prepare physically by learning the foundation of the exercises. It introduces the two styles of Tai Chi: the Sun and Yang. The style that is appropriate for diabetic patients is the Sun style, because it improves relaxation and increases “life energy” or “Qi”. Additionally, the program is devised with five levels of physical exertion. The lowest level, or the beginners, gradually works up to the higher levels as strength improves. Patients with diabetes start here because it is the safest and minimizes the risk for hypoglycemia. All patients start with warm-up, stretching, and cool-down exercises before learning the basis of the program. These exercises introduce the importance of ones core and joint muscles. The book educates people with a description of the movements, along with corresponding pictures.

The third section of the book is titled “The Tai Chi for Diabetes Program”. Tai Chi incorporates the practice of “Qigong”, which builds up core strength with time, and eventually enhances life energy. Qigong for Diabetes includes stationary and moving qigong exercises. Once those movements are practiced and grasped, there are 11 basic movements that represent the foundation of Tai Chi for Diabetes, and 8 advanced movements for those who want more challenging forms. People can learn different movements at their own pace. It concludes the chapter with ways to improve your Tai Chi and making the most out of your classes.

As a result, this program will help to improve muscular strength, increase heart and lung activity, improve balance and flexibility, reduce stress, and integrate the mind and body.