Another impressive perk can be added to the long list of benefits of the ancient Chinese art of tai chi: lowering risk of dementia. Frequently referred to as “mediation in motion,” tai chi uses gentle flowing movements to reduce stress and improve health. There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice aids in treating and preventing many health ills, ranging from balance problems to arthritis, depression, fibromyalgia and heart disease. A recent Chinese study reveals the slow, continuous motions of tai chi incorporate awareness of breath and meditation and may also improve cognition and memory in the elderly. This study specifically examined the benefits of tai chi in preventing dementia and memory loss.
While improved healthcare means we are living longer lives, it also means more of us are getting older and experiencing the normal signs of aging, including memory loss. Studies have shown that physical exercise helps prevent forgetfulness and dementia in old age, but some forms of exercise may be too strenuous as we age and face physical limitations. Because tai chi is a gentle activity, people of any age can practice it.
The study included 389 participants. Roughly half performed regular tai chi exercises and the other half performed traditional stretching exercises. Researchers assessed the participants’ memory, cognitive factors and moods at the start of the study and two months after the conclusion of the training. While cognitive function improved in both groups, the tai chi group showed more improvement in memory and significant improvement in posture and balance.
The study found that physical activity improves cognitive function as you age, no matter what the exercise. But the development of dementia specifically is lowered in those who practice tai chi regularly in contrast to other forms of exercise. This may be because when practicing tai chi, one uses cognitive functions such as attention and coordination that may strengthen not only the body’s muscles but also the brain’s.
While more research is needed to validate the specific benefits of tai chi on the prevention of dementia, the latest findings point to this ancient practice as a beneficial combination of cognitive and motor functions that support mind and body health well into old age.