Objective To systematically summarize the evidence for the effects of martial arts on health and fitness, to show the strengths of different types of martial arts, and to get a more complete picture of the impacts of martial arts on health, and also to provide a basis for future research on martial arts as an exercise prescription in exercise therapy.
Method We searched for “martial arts”“health” and “random” in eight databases (n= 5432). Randomized controlled trials and controlled clinical trials on the health effects of martial arts were included in the study.
Results The final analysis included 28 papers (one general martial arts, one kung fu, sixteen tai chi, six judo, three karate, and one taekwondo). Among the disciplines of martial arts, tai chi was the most well-studied, followed by judo, karate, and taekwondo. Research topics varied widely, and included health, injuries, competition, morals and psychology, and herbal medicine. Most found positive effects on health. Tai chi is no-contact, low-impact, soft body and mindfulness exercise, which has been widely adopted by elderly people and proven to be a beneficial health promotion exercise. Research on judo, karate, and taekwondo mainly focused on improvements to athletes’ competitive abilities, rather than on health effects. We did not find any published randomized controlled trials or controlled clinical trials on aikido, kendo, sumo, kyudo, qi gong, or other disciplines.
Discussion and Conclusion Since martial arts are widely practiced, their effects on physiology, morphology, immunology, and neurology should be further studied in order to help people to select the best discipline or style to accomplish their purposes. This necessitates categorizing and classifying the disciplines and styles according to their effects on different body systems and levels of contact, as well as standardizing evaluation criteria for martial arts. Martial arts as an exercise prescription can then move from an experience-based to an evidence-based treatment.