IELTS Reading Passage 5
Tai Chi health benefits
A medical report released this week, jointly funded by the Alternative Health Association of Great Britain and an EU bursary, is focusing greater attention on the benefits of the traditional Chinese health practice of Tai Chi. The main researcher behind the report, associate professor Simon Gilbraith of Imperial University Cambridge, has amalgamated and condensed a wealth of Tai Chi studies carried out over the past decade across Europe. According to Gilbraith, “substantial health benefits from consistent Tai Chi practice can no longer be ignored by the medical profession” who have long labelled Tai Chi, along with yoga and chi kung, under the umbrella term of ‘esoteric’ practices. These contemporary findings attempt to demystify this belief and present hard evidence to support the prescription of Tai Chi by doctors and health practitioners, which even the most hardline scientist will find convincing.
Tai Chi is synonymous to many with relaxation and slow, almost meditative movements practised by elderly people in parks, which professor Gilbraith does not deny. Moreover, it is when demonstrated by the elderly that one can fully appreciate its long-term psychological and physiological health effects. Varying forms and styles of Tai Chi are recorded in Gilbraith’s report but with surprisingly minor differences in health improvements and thus it seems that the secret behind Tai Chi is not based solely on physical movement alone. Tai Chi Union representative Peter Duong, a consultant in the study based in Paris, asserts that “Tai Chi represents a holistic system of health and thus should be practised as such”. He also points out that newcomers often place too great an emphasis on the limbs of the upper body and perfecting postures at the expense of the relaxing mental aspect. The resulting muscle and mental tension would seem to be at odds with the purpose of Tai Chi and may even increase blood pressure and lead to negative mental conditions.
An impressive reduction in psychological well-being was recorded in one study originating from Denmark in 95% of all 245 of the test subjects, each one a daily Tai Chi practitioner over 65. Professor Zhang Lu, an oriental doctor and head researcher who regularly prescribes Tai Chi to patients of the London Oriental medical foundation, adds that “an enhancement in overall mood is regularly experienced brought about by reduced levels of tension, depression and anxiety”. In Gilbraith’s report, significantly high levels of relaxation were regularly reported whereas many stated feeling a euphoric high during and post Tai Chi exercise. Other studies have identified a related decrease in chemicals associated with the onset of heart failure, reduced stress hormones and a boost in the immune system.
It is clear that the mind appears to play a vital part in both preventative and treatment-based approaches to Tai Chi. The former of which is a particularly under-researched area in the medical field and is precisely ‘where Tai Chi can be applied effectively for the elderly’ says Gilbraith. A major cause of accidents amongst seniors relates to the reduction of balance and lower body stability attributed to aging. A simple slip or fall by an elderly person could possibly be fatal. Regular Tai Chi lessons can seriously reduce this risk. The conclusion of a 2007 study from Berlin comparing Tai Chi to walking revealed that Tai Chi group participants recorded higher rates of functional balance, a 62% smaller rate of falls and more importantly a substantially reduced psychological fear of falling. This particular case adds more support to the adoption of Tai Chi as a preventative health practice but this movement may require more support than Gilbraith’s report alone.
Deteriorated physical mobility can also be the result of a stroke. When you suffer a stroke, it can take a long time to fully recover your sense of equilibrium. According to global estimates, 6 million people are left permanently disabled each year by this phenomenon while severe deterioration of neuromuscular control is experienced by far more. As a low-impact, low-intensity physical exercise Tai Chi is an ideal treatment as it also encourages a calmer state of mind and can increase self-confidence amongst stroke survivors. “I was up and about in next to no time,” said Jane Borne, a Tai Chi instructor based in Edinburgh and an assistant in one research project, stresses that “strokes are particularly debilitating for the elderly but Tai Chi provides a simple and enjoyable therapy which can be practised by people of various physical abilities”. Nonetheless, she is adamant that a medical physician should always be consulted prior to taking up any new health treatment especially an alternative one.
What clearly distinguishes Tai Chi from other forms of exercise is its access-ability. It is suitable for all ages, from those in convalescence from illness to professional athletes. Most beneficial of all, from a health care provider and patient perspective, is not just the zero cost of teaching and learning but the fact that it can be adapted to any student’s requirements. As a result, it possesses the ability to form an ‘integrated health treatment’ alongside more conventional medicine. Tai Chi is ideal for older patients unlike more physical aerobic workouts aimed at younger members of society. Professor Gilbraith ventures further, by stating that ‘we have only scratched the surface, Tai Chi exercise has countless curative and preventative benefits
IELTS READING QUESTIONS
Questions 11 – 16
Reading passage 2 has 6 paragraphs A-F. Choose the correct heading for each paragraph from the list of headings below. Write the correct number i-x in boxes 1-6.
List of Headings
- Psychological benefits
- Reduced balance
- Treatment after strokes
- Prevention of strokes
- Relaxed meditation
- A mental and physical practice
- Increased support for Tai Chi
- Further research
- The flexibility of Tai Chi
- Preventative health care
- Paragraph A =
- Paragraph B =
- Paragraph C =
- Paragraph D =
- Paragraph E =
- Paragraph F =
Answer the questions below using NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS for each answer.
Write your answers in boxes 7-12 on your answer sheet.
- What has Tai Chi been labelled as by doctors?
- Which part of the body do new Tai Chi students focus on?
- Which medical condition causes people to experience loss of muscle control?
- Which bodily system does Tai Chi improve?
- What are the 2 causes of decreased stability?
- What is the financial cost of studying Tai Chi?
In which cities were the areas below studied?
- Mental health: