The first research study and clinical trial on the effects of poi on physical and cognitive function in healthy older adults.
As our lifespan lengthens and our aging population rapidly grows, quality of life in our latter years is of utmost concern. Simple and effective strategies for maintaining health in old age are urgently needed, and this study aims to discover if International Poi (a weight on the end of a cord swung in circular patterns around the body) may be one such strategy. It is the first study in the world to evaluate the effects of poi on physical and cognitive function in older adults. Have a look at the documentary below to see what the study is like, and how the participants are doing.
An assessor-blind randomized controlled trial is underway with 80 healthy adults aged 60 years or older. Participants were randomly assigned to either the International Poi group (treatment) or Tai Chi group (control), and took part in 2 lessons a week for two month. Physical and cognitive function were measured before and after the lessons. The hypothesis being tested is: healthy older adults will experience an improvement in physical and cognitive function following training in either International Poi or Tai Chi, and these improvements will be greater for participants who complete International Poi training.
Participants’ balance, bimanual coordination, blood pressure, cognitive flexibility, complex attention, composite memory, grip strength, heart rate, lower body strength, manual dexterity, psychomotor speed, psychological well-being, and upper limb range of motion were measured a total of 4 times (before and after the poi or Tai Chi lessons). All tests were safe, non-invasive, and standard means of measuring physical and cognitive function. To learn more about the tests, click on the images below.
Lower body strength
Range of motion: upper limb
Balance was measured with two different tests, the Functional Reach and the Timed Up and Go (TUG).
The functional reach test assesses stability by measuring the maximum distance an individual can reach forward while standing in a fixed position. Participants were instructed to stand close to, but not touching, the wall and position the arm that is closer to the wall at 90 degrees of shoulder flexion with a closed fist. Their starting position was recorded at the 3rd metacarpal. Participants were then instructed to reach as far forward as they could without taking a step or twisting their body. The location of the 3rd metacarpal was recorded again, and the difference between the start and end position was their reach distance.
The TUG test measures a person’s mobility and requires both static and dynamic balance. Participants were instructed to sit down with their back against the back of the chair and their arms in the arm rests. They were then instructed to walk to a line on the floor (three metres away), walk around a small ball on the ground, walk back to the chair, and sit down. Participants were told to move at their normal, comfortable walking pace.
International Poi lessons were taught by Kate Riegle van West, the principal investigator for this study. The lessons focused on exploring and controlling the timing, plane, and direction of the poi with an awareness of ones body in relation to the poi. This was done through specific movements, such as the figure 8, butterfly, chasing the sun, flowers, and pendulums.
The Tai Chi lessons, taught by Bruno Rubini (a full time Auckland area instructor with over 30 years of Tai Chi Chuan experience) guided participants through three phases of movements in each lesson: Energizing Joints (strengthening the joints and tendons through a specific set of movements), Silk Reeling, Chen Style (basic warm up movements to connect the upper and lower body) and Tai Chi Qigong Shibashi (using movements from the Yang style Tai Chi Chaun, with an emphasis on synchronizing 18 movements with proper breathing techniques).
We are currently in the process of analyzing the quantitative data from round one of the study, but there are plenty of thoughts and stories to share in the mean time! Participants were asked to write down three words describing how they felt after each International Poi or Tai Chi lesson. See how their feelings evolved over the course of the month by clicking on the word clouds below (each word cloud represents one week). Participants were also asked a few questions after they had completed one month of lessons in either International Poi or Tai Chi. Here are some of their thoughts.
Why do you think International Poi might have an effect on health?
Poi contains a unique set of characteristics which have been proven, individually, to have a positive impact health. Poi is a physical activity which draws upon the key components of fitness and is highly customizable. Physically active lifestyles have been proven to reduce risk factors and improve functioning and quality of life in the elderly (Daley, 2000). Poi is intrinsically playful, and play is proven to have a vital role in keeping the mind and body young by presenting novel situations which foster cognitive innovation, adaptability, and flexibility; which in turn improves reflexes, memory, processing speeds, etc. (Brown, 2009). Poi is rhythmic, and active music therapy has a multitude of physical, mental, and emotional benefits (Drake, 2010). The rhythmic nature of poi can potentially tap into the same benefits as rhythmic, active, music therapy such as drumming. And activities such as juggling (Boyke, 2008) and Tai Chi (“The Health Benefits”, 2008), which share many characteristics with poi (e.g. ambidexterity, rhythm, and meditative movement) are proven to have a positive effect on maintaining both physical and cognitive ability in older adults.
Why did you choose Tai Chi for the control group?
Seeing as there is no known research on poi and health, we cannot compare a poi treatment group to a poi control group. Thus, I wanted to compare a poi treatment group to a control group which was participating in an activity closely related to poi, which also: 1) has both physical and cognitive dimensions, 2) is appropriate for older adults, and 3) has a substantial amount of scientific research proving its efficacy. Many activities were considered (such as juggling, ballroom dancing, and yoga) but ultimately Tai Chi was the best fit based on the methodology above.
I thought poi was Maori…why aren’t you using Maori poi in your study?
The focus of my research is to determine if the fundamental act of a weight orbiting on the end of a string has an impact on health. To do that, I believe it’s important to peal away as many layers as possible and start with the very basics: swinging a weight on a cord in circles. One of the things that make Maori poi unique is their inextricable link to Maori culture…you simply cannot study Maori poi without also studying Maori culture. I believe this depth is extremely valuable, and I would like to conduct future research on Maori poi, but International poi is a better fit for my research question, and it is also where my own expertise lies. If you would like to learn more about the different styles of poi, feel free to check out my about page.
Why did you choose a population of healthy older adults?
As the young-old balance shifts throughout the world, so does the prevalence of chronic disease, making elderly health and well-being an extremely important area of interest. I could have chosen many other populations to work with (people recovering from stroke, people with dementia), and I would like to conduct research on other populations in the future, but healthy older adults is a very relevant and timely place to start with the boom in our aging population. I am particularly interested if International Poi can contribute to prolonging quality of life and possibly delaying the onset of diseases that strike in old age.
Boyke J., Driemeyer J., Gaser C., Büchel C., and May A. (2008). Training-induced Brain Structure Changes in the Elderly. Journal of Neuroscience. 28. Doi: 7031-7035. 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0742-08.2008
Brown, S. (2009). Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
Daley, M. & Spinks, W. (2000). Exercise, Mobility and Ageing. Sports Medicine. 29, 1-12.
Drake, M. (2010). The Therapeutic Effects of Drumming. Retrieved from: http://shamanicdrumming.com/drumtherapy.html
“The Health Benefits of Tai Chi” (2014). Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Womens_Health_Watch/2009/May/The-health-benefits-of-tai-chi>.