Tai Chi Offers Many Benefits to Body and Mind
The movements are slow and graceful, but don’t let that fool you. The ancient martial art of tai chi provides a complete workout for both the body and mind. Practiced for centuries in China and increasingly around the world, tai chi also may improve cognitive function, working memory, verbal fluency, and increase one’s brain mass, a growing number of studies suggest.
Tai chi involves performing a series of gentle movements and poses that are designed to energize and balance your body’s energy, or qi (pronounced “chee”). According to traditional Chinese medicine principles, when one’s qi is balanced, one’s body can function at its best.
Different forms of tai chi may include a few as five poeses to more than 100 poses. All are low impact, which makes the activity popular with older adults. Chinese parks often are filled with seniors doing tai chi together.
A growing body of research finds that practicing tai chi offers significant brain benefits.
Mind-body exercises, especially tai chi, can help support global cognition, cognitive flexibility, working memory, verbal fluency, and learning in older adults, notes a 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis that examined the effects of mind-body exercises on cognitive function in older adults.
A similar 2014 systematic review of 11 studies found tai chi shows potential to support cognitive function in older adults, particularly with executive functioning. Still another 2015 review suggested that compared with usual physical activities, tai chi shows potential supportive effects on healthy adults’ cognitive ability. Adding to the evidence, a 2018 study of 31 older adults found that those who practiced tai chi for 12 weeks had a better ability to switch between tasks than those who didn’t practice it.
Research also indicates that practicing tai chi may actually increase one’s brain mass.
One 2016 study found significant increases in the bilateral hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex regions in the study’s tai chi group compared with a control group. The increased gray matter was significantly associated with corresponding memory function improvement, suggested the study that concluded tai chi may be supportive exercises to help with memory decline associated with aging.
Low Impact, Big Benefits
Tai chi movements are characterized as slow, circular and never forced. Tai chi has been shown to help individuals maintain strength, flexibility, and balance, and is a perfect life-long activity. Additional physical benefits include strengthening the lower and upper body, increasing flexibility, and improving proprioception, or the ability to sense one’s body in space.
Other practitioners add that tai chi requires a focus on movement and breathing, which can create a state of relaxation and calm. This focus allows one to enter a state of mindfulness , which can reduce stress.
Tai chi is best learned and practiced in a class setting, some note, which offers guidance and the benefits of socializing with other like-minded individuals. A quick internet search will turn up many local community centers and studios that offering tai chi from experienced instructors.
Pharmacists should have no qualms about recommending their customers consider taking up tai chi to help support their bodies and minds.