United Kingdom

Golf is better than tai chi for improving balance and mobility in people with Parkinson's disease 

Playing a round of golf is better for improving and maintaining balance and mobility in Parkinson's sufferers than doing tai chi, a new study revealed. 

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital Boston studied 20 people with moderate symptoms of the central nervous system disorder Parkinson's.

There are an estimated 145,000 people living with Parkinson's in the UK and one in 37 people alive today in the country are likely to be diagnosed with the condition. 

All of the volunteers were were offered 10 weeks of golf or tai chi at no cost and were timed getting up from a chair, walking 10 ft then sitting down again.

They discovered that people who practiced their golf swing at a driving range were quicker and more mobile at the end of the study than those taking tai chi.

All of the volunteers were were offered 10 weeks of golf or Tai Chi at no cost and were timed getting up from a chair, walking 10 ft then sitting down again. Stock image

Study author Dr Anne-Marie Wills said it was already known that people with Parkinson's benefit from exercise - but not enough people get the required amount. 

'Golf is popular - the most popular sport for people over the age of 55 - which might encourage people to try it and stick with it,' she said.

'We decided to compare golf to tai chi in our study because Tai Chi is the gold standard for balance and preventing falls in people with Parkinson's.'

There were limitations to the study, as with just 20 participants the numbers were small and they only had them complete the exercise for 10 weeks. 

She added: 'While the results for golf might be surprising, it's important to remember that the number of participants in our study was small, and the period over which we studied them was relatively short.

'More research in larger groups of people, over longer periods of time, is needed.'

For the study eight people decided to practice their golf swing at a driving range and 12 did tai chi - the 'gold standard' for helping Parkinson's patience with balance.

At the start and end of the study, researchers evaluated everyone, including a test that measures balance, walking ability and risk of falling in older adults. 

For the test, a person is timed while getting up from a chair, walking 10 feet and then returning to the chair and sitting down. 

The golfers were 0.96 seconds faster on the test at the end of the study, while those who did tai chi were 0.33 seconds slower. 

Study author Dr Anne-Marie Wills said it was already known that people with Parkinson's benefit from exercise - but not enough people get the required amount. Stock image

The researchers also found 86 per cent of golfers said they were more likely to continue with the activity, compared to 33 per cent of people who practiced Tai Chi.

Other than muscle pain from golf, there was no difference between the two groups in the number of falls or other problems. 

Dr Wills said: 'Our finding that golfers were much more likely to continue with their sport is exciting because it doesn't matter how beneficial an exercise is on paper if you people don't actually do it.

'So if swinging a golf club is more appealing than practicing Tai Chi, by all means, go to a driving range and hit balls for an hour instead.' 

The study was presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 73rd Annual Meeting.

WHAT IS PARKINSON'S? THE INCURABLE DISEASE THAT STRUCK BOXER MUHAMMAD ALI 

Parkinson’s disease affects one in 500 people around the world, including about one million Americans.

It causes muscle stiffness, slowness of movement, tremors, sleep disturbance, chronic fatigue, an impaired quality of life and can lead to severe disability.

It is a progressive neurological condition that destroys cells in the part of the brain that controls movement.

Sufferers are known to have diminished supplies of dopamine because nerve cells that make it have died.

There is currently no cure and no way of stopping the progression of the disease, but hundreds of scientific trials are underway to try and change that.  

The disease claimed the life of boxing legend Muhammad Ali in 2016.

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