Background: Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) based exercises have been widely used in the prevention and treatment of balance, cardiopulmonary, and other related diseases in older adults. However, there seems to be no consensus on the improvement and comparison of physical performance, balance, and muscle strength in the elderly population.
Objectives: To systematically examine the impact of different TCM-based exercises on physical performance, balance, and muscle strength outcomes in the elderly.
Methods: We searched PubMed, EMBASE, Scopus, and Cochrane Center, CNKI and Wan Fang between their date of inception and March 2021. This meta-analysis was performed using RevMan5.3 software. Only randomized controlled trials (RCT) or controlled clinical trials (CCT) were considered in TCM-based exercises (Tai Chi, Ba Duan Jin, Qigong). The overall mean difference (MD) or standardized mean difference (SMD), and its 95% confidence interval (CI) were calculated.
Main results: A total of 27 studies with 2580 older adults met the inclusion criteria. The pooled analysis indicated that Tai Chi could be more effective in Times up and go (TUG) (MD = – 2.62, 95% CI – 4.00 to – 1.24, P = 0.0002), 5 times sit-stand (MD = – 1.89; 95%CI – 3.38 to – 0.40; P = 0.01), and handgrip strength outcomes (SMD = 0.69; 95%CI 0.52-0.86; P < 0.0001) compared to Ba Duan Jin and Qigong. The older adults performing Qigong could have a better benefit in Single-bed balance (SLB) with eyes closed compared to Tai Chi and Ba Duan Jin (MD = 3.42; 95%CI 1.55 to 5.29; P = 0.0003). Tai Chi also had benefits in terms of balance outcomes compared to those in the control group: Berg Balance scale (BBS) (MD = 1.41; 95% CI 0.03-2.85; P = 0.05), Functional reach test (FRT) (MD = 1.57; 95%CI 1.22-1.93; P < 0.0001). The Tai Chi study meta-analysis demonstrated significant effects on lower limb strength: knee extension (SMD = 0.56; 95%CI 0.26-0.86; P = 0.0003), ankle dorsiflexion (SMD = 0.67; 95%CI 0.02-1.31; P = 0.04) compared to the controls.
Conclusion: This systematic review reveals that TCM-based exercises can effectively improve physical performance outcomes, balance outcomes, and muscle strength in the elderly population.