A Queensland exercise program based on tai chi has helped people manage diabetes, weight and depression, says an Australian researcher.

An Australian-developed tai chi-based exercise program has helped people reduce their blood sugar and blood pressure, according to a new study.

The gentle program is based on movements from the ancient Chinese form of exercise, but is specifically designed to help people with chronic diseases, says University of Queensland researcher Dr Xin Liu.

The 52 people who participated in the study experienced encouraging health improvements, regardless of their diet or other factors, said Dr Liu.

Apart from reduced weight and waist circumference, they displayed improved mental health, strength, flexibility, sleeping patterns and quality of life.

The benefits can be achieved with three sessions a week.

The study participants were aged 41 to 71 and had type 2 diabetes or were at high risk of the disease.

The group’s average blood sugar decreased by six per cent, blood pressure decreased by nine per cent and waist circumference decreased by three per cent.

The gentle nature of the program makes it attractive to people unable or fearful of participating in conventional types of exercises.

People could do it alone at home.

Dr Liu said the program, known as SMILE Wellness, could be the first to scientifically demonstrate significant benefits of exercise alone for the management of diabetes, weight and depression.

A report on the study has been published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.