Ruth Taylor-Piliae has been a nurse since 1980 when she obtained her undergraduate degree from California State University, Fresno. She has a master's degree in nursing from The Chinese University of Hong Kong and a doctorate from the University of California, San Francisco. She did her post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford School of Medicine. Throughout her career she has lived and worked overseas for about 20 years, including time in Hong Kong, China for 15 years. This is her third year on the UA faculty.
The Daily Wildcat sat down with Taylor-Piliae to discuss her research on the health benefits of tai chi.
Why did you become a nurse?
I always wanted to become a nurse since I was young. I just wanted to help people. With nursing you can go anywhere and do anything. Nursing afforded me the opportunity to go and work in lots of different places including international experiences.
Why did you come to the UA?
I was looking for a top university in research to work at and it also needed to be a top university for nursing with a graduate program. It was a good fit. The College of Nursing was looking for someone with my expertise and background. Having lots of sun and warm weather also helps. The weather was agreeable.
Can you tell me about the ""Tai Chi Exercise for Stroke Survivors Study"" you will be conducting?
This is a randomized clinical trial. What we're doing is looking for people at least 50 years old that had a stroke at least three months ago, but no less than three months ago, that are willing to be randomly assigned to either a 12-week program of tai chi exercise, SilverSneakers, a fitness program for Medicare adults, or usual care, the third group, which is a stroke rehabilitation. Everybody does their usual care, which generally means three months of stroke rehabilitation that's usually covered by insurance. Usual care depends on the person and how affected they are by a stroke. It's usually physical therapy, occupational therapy and some people need speech therapy. It depends how the person was affected by the stroke. It's totally individual. It depends on how early they got in to get treatment after getting symptoms of the stroke. There are a lot of variables. I'll compare them, looking at whether they're effective in improving physical functioning or quality of life.
Why tai chi?
I think there have been two studies now that have published results using tai chi in stroke survivors. If we look in research studies done in persons that have not had a stroke, some things are very consistent. Tai chi is very effective at improving balance and other things that have to do with physical function, like strength and endurance, as well as lowering blood pressure and improving mood and quality of life. So it's effective in people that haven't had a stroke. So I wanted to see if we could find those benefits in stroke survivors using tai chi. SilverSneakers is my comparison group. They're a nationally certified fitness program for older adults that are Medicare eligible.
When I was living and working in Hong Kong, I worked in critical care as a nurse and we had a lot of people that had heart disease and strokes in the unit. After being in our unit they would go to rehab eventually and, unfortunately, the way the programs were set up they would have only two or three months to go to a gym medical(ly) supervised to exercise … In Hong Kong there weren't, at that time, places like 24-hour fitness or the YMCA with gym facilities suitable to exercise. There was no place for them to continue physical activity. At the same time, in Hong Kong, if you're walking around the park, there are lots of people around the park doing tai chi. That's where I came up with the idea of offering tai chi as another physical activity to offer people as part of their rehab.
Was there a significant difference shown in stroke patients who practice tai chi in previous studies?
There was a very significant difference. They had significant improvements in blood pressure, balance, physical functioning and better moods.
These are things I've found in previous studies I've worked on, and now I've just extended it to people that have had a stroke.
Do you practice tai chi?
I've been doing it since 2002, for about the last seven years. I think tai chi looks a lot easier to do than it (is) so I think there's a misperception for college students or young adults that it looks easy but it's actually not. Some of the benefits are really good. It's very calming, very relaxing and you'll get additional benefits: you'll notice better balance, and if you're an athlete, when you practice tai chi, you'll probably find you can practice that sport better.