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Golf Associated With Greater Balance Benefit for Parkinson Disease Than Tai Chi


According to an abstract to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 73rd Annual Meeting, gold may be better at improving balance and fall risk among patients with Parkinson disease than Tai Chi. In addition, patients are more likely to continue the golfing exercise.

In assessing exercises that may best benefit patients with Parkinson disease (PD), golf was associated with greater improvements in balance and mobility than Tai Chi, according to an abstract to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s (AAN) 73rd Annual Meeting being held virtually April 17-22, 2021.

For patients with PD, prior studies have showcased the distinct impact that exercise can provide, with a noncontact boxing program associated with improvements in quality-of-life (QOL) and table tennis with an improvement in motor skills. Moreover, Tai Chi has emerged as the current gold standard for balance and preventing falls in people with PD.

"We know that people with PD benefit from exercise, but not enough people with the disease get enough exercise as therapy," study author Anne-Marie A. Wills, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital Boston and a member of AAN, said in a statement. "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.”

As researchers highlight, golf is a low injury exercise that has been reported to improve balance and QOL after stroke. Hypothesizing that the exercise could also be beneficial for PD, they conducted a single-center rater-blinded randomized controlled trial where they tested the primary outcome of feasibility and tolerability of golf compared with Tai Chi.

Researchers additionally assessed secondary outcomes identified as the Mini-BESTest of Balance, which included the Timed Up and Go (TUG), the TUGCognitive, and the Activities Specific Balance Confidence Scale.

Participants with moderate PD (Hoehn & Yahr stage II-III) were recruited (N = 20) and randomized 1:1 to receive two 60-minute group classes per week of either golf (n = 8) or Tai Chi (n = 12) for 10 weeks at no cost. Outcomes were assessed at the start and end of the study, with the TUG test characterized by the time it took for patients to get up from a chair, walk 10 feet, and then return to the chair and sit down.

Among the study cohort, no significant difference in attendance was reported, with 62% of golfers and 42% of Tai Chi participants said to have completed greater than or equal to 80% of classes (P = .65).

Notably, the golfing group was shown to be 0.96 seconds faster on the TUG at the conclusion of the study, compared with the Tai Chi group who were 0.33 seconds slower than at baseline (P = .023). Although overall satisfaction was similar among both groups, 86% of golfers said they would be “definitely” likely to continue the exercise program, compared with 33% of the Tai Chi group.

"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 people don't actually do it," said Willis.

While promising, Willis noted that the patient cohort was small, with the study length also said to be relatively short. "More research in larger groups of people, over longer periods of time, is needed."

Other than muscle pain from golf, no differences in falls or adverse events were reported between the 2 groups.


Johnson R, Plummer L, Chan J, Willis AM. Feasibility and tolerability randomized clinical trial of golf versus Tai Chi for people with moderate Parkinson’s disease. To be presented at: The American Academy of Neurology’s 73rd Annual Meeting; April 17-22, 2020.

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