Tai Chi and Depression

My wife and I started classes in tai chi some months ago, so I was curious about a new study about the impact of tai chi on depression.

The pilot study, conducted at Mass General in Boston, focused on Chinese-Americans. This group is just as subject to depression as the rest of the population, but tends to be skeptical regarding western therapeutic techniques.

The key finding of the study is that a twelve-week course of instruction in tai chi could lift depression symptoms, and could be used as the primary course of treatment for depression among Chinese-Americans.

The researchers made an assumption that there are cultural factors that make tai chi effective among Chinese-Americans that might make it ineffective with individuals from other backgrounds. Thus they limited the study just to Chinese-Americans, and even more narrowly, to those speaking Cantonese or Mandarin.

I’m not sure that limitation is appropriate.

  • First, while tai chi is a form of martial art, it is also exercise. Exercise is known to lift depression symptoms. (2) There’s no compelling reason to limit tai chi to those of Chinese descent.
  • Second, I’ve noticed that I feel better emotionally after an hour of tai chi.

Tai chi may be a virtually universal therapy. It has several forms, and there’s a low impact version that can be done easily by seniors.


  1. Albert S. Yeung, Run Feng, Daniel Ju Hyung Kim, Peter M. Wayne, Gloria Y. Yeh, Lee Baer, Othelia E. Lee, John W. Denninger, Herbert Benson, Gregory L. Fricchione, Jonathan Alpert, Maurizio Fava. A Pilot, Randomized Controlled Study of Tai Chi With Passive and Active Controls in the Treatment of Depressed Chinese Americans. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2017; 78 (5): e522 DOI: 10.4088/JCP.16m10772
  2. Mayo Clinic, “Depression and Exercise: exercise eases symptoms.” http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495



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