TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Two UT Tyler professors have been awarded a U.S. patent for a unique exercise device.
The Tai Chi Ball was developed by Yong Tai Wang, dean of the UT Tyler College of Nursing and Health Sciences, and Chung Hyun Goh, UT Tyler assistant professor of mechanical engineering.
It’s designed to support mental and health exercises and weight training, particularly in older adults and those who are disabled. The ball is used in combination with traditional Tai Chi movements.
“Tai Chi exercise is traditionally a mind-and-body exercise, mainly to reduce the anxiety and reduce the depression,” Wang said. “It’s for the physical and the mental benefits."
But Tai Chi doesn’t include strength training, an important part of physical health.
“Strength training is very important for everybody, especially for the older population,” Wang said. “It’s like the principle, ‘you use it or you lose it.'”
That’s where Wang and Goh’s Tai Chi Ball comes into play. It’s made of two pieces that can be used as one, or separated. That allows the user to hold one piece in each hand while going through the traditional Tai Chi movements. The weight of the ball, means the user is adding strength training to their workout.
“It really gives a good result to people to combine the mind-and-body exercise with strength training,” Wang said.
The veterans service organization, Paralyzed Veterans of America, funded the pilot study in 2017. The research study was published in the Journal of Sports Medicine in June 2020.
The study took place at an assisted living facility where the average age of participants was 86, including a control group and an experimental group.
“After three months of the intervention, we saw significant difference in muscle strength in upper extremities between the two groups,” Wang said.
Wang said participants reported being able to do simple tasks with more ease — like lifting food to put in the microwave and being able to carry more.
“It (strength) is related to your balance, daily activity and functionalities,” he said.
The ball comes in three sizes and three weights to match individual physical and health conditions. It’s currently being produced by UT Tyler using a 3D printer. An investment company will be secured in the future for mass production, according to the University.
“The key concept of this ball is twist-to-release motion. This twist-to-release motion is one of the most important factors for this Tai Chi exercise ball,” Goh said.
The pair hopes their invention could someday have a military application. Wang and Goh have written a proposal to the U.S. Department of Defense to use their Tai Chi Ball for military personnel and veterans to reduce musculoskeletal disorders. Wang says such disorders are common among servicemembers due to their intense training.
Non-combat-related musculoskeletal injuries, or MSKIs, occur six times more often than combat-related MSKIs, according to U.S. Medicine’s website, which attributes the information to the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. According to the same report, MSKIs “put 68,000 servicemembers in nondeployable status every year.”
“Hopefully, this exercise can help them in the future to prevent the musculoskeletal injury and to recover and the rehabilitation process as well,” Wang said.