Tai Chi Training Reduced Coupling Between Respiration and Postural Control

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Neuroscience Letters






In order to maintain stable upright stance, the postural control system must account for the continuous perturbations to the body’s center-of-mass including those caused by spontaneous respiration. Both aging and disease increase “posturo-respiratory synchronization;” which reflects the degree to which respiration affects postural sway fluctuations over time. Tai Chi training emphasizes the coordination of respiration and bodily movements and may therefore optimize the functional interaction between these two systems. The purpose of the project was to examine the effect of Tai Chi training on the interaction between respiration and postural control in older adults. We hypothesized that Tai Chi training would improve the ability of the postural control system to compensate for respiratory perturbations and thus, reduce posturo-respiratory synchronization. Participants were recruited from supportive housing facilities and randomized to a 12-week Tai Chi intervention (n = 28; 86 ± 5yrs) or educational-control program (n = 34, 85 ± 6yrs). Standing postural sway and respiration were simultaneously recorded with a force plate and respiratory belt under eyes-open and eyes-closed conditions. Posturo-respiratory synchronization was determined by quantifying the variation of the phase relationship between the dominant oscillatory mode of respiration and corresponding oscillations within postural sway. Groups were similar in age, gender distribution, height, body mass, and intervention compliance. Neither intervention altered average sway speed, sway magnitude or respiratory rate. As compared to the education-control group, however, Tai Chi training reduced posturo-respiratory synchronization when standing with eyes open or closed (p < 0.001). Tai Chi training did not affect traditional parameters of standing postural control or respiration, yet reduced the coupling between respiration and postural control. The beneficial effects of Tai Chi training may therefore stem in part from optimization of this multi-system interaction.