New information shows Tai Chi does good things for aging brains

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Tai Chi practice linked to improve memory and less brain shrinkage in seniors.
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Practicing Tai Chi might be one way to stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers say seniors who practiced the gentle form of exercise were found to have increased brain volume, compared to two other groups of seniors.

Less brain shrinkage in seniors who practice Tai Chi

The study authors say the finding opens the door to more research to see if the increase in brain volume, and less brain shrinkage found in senior Tai Chi practitioners could also prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown that memory loss with aging is associated with lower brain volume

"The ability to reverse this trend with physical exercise and increased mental activity implies that it may be possible to delay the onset of dementia in older persons through interventions that have many physical and mental health benefits," said lead author Dr. James Mortimer, professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida College of Public Health in a media release.

Aerobic activity is also linked to brain health because it stimulates brain growth factors. The researchers for the current study suggest Tai Chi could boost brain power with aging because it incorporates mental activities as well as physical.

"If this is shown, then it would provide strong support to the concept of "use it or lose it" and encourage seniors to stay actively involved both intellectually and physically," Dr. Mortimer said.

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For the study, scientists conducted an 8-month, randomized, controlled trial that compared Chinese seniors who practiced Tai Chi 3 times a week to no intervention and another group who stayed involved mentally with lively conversation.

Compared to the group without intervention, the Tai Chi seniors and the group who remained mentally active in discussion groups experienced improved memory and thinking shown on psychological testing, and increased in brain volume.

Other Tai Chi brain benefits

Past studies have shown the ancient Chinese art might also help memory loss associated with chemotherapy and help restore balance for patients with Parkinson's disease.

The researchers want to know if Tai Chi can help stave off the most debilitating form of memory loss from dementia, which is Alzheimer’s disease. The study would be the first to show that gentle exercise like Tai Chi has benefits for the aging brain that are similar to aerobic exercise and remaining socially and intellectually engaged.

Source:
Journal of Alzheimer's Disease
"Changes in Brain Volume and Cognition in a Randomized Trial of Exercise and Social Interaction in a Community-Based Sample of Non-Demented Chinese Elders"
James A. Mortimer et al.
June 19, 2012

Image credit: Bing

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