The Best Exercise to Help You Stay Young, New Research Finds

It's easy, accessible, and works wonders.

When it comes to your cognitive health, it's hard to overstate the importance of the mind-body connection. In fact, doctors and researchers emphasize that getting regular physical exercise is one of the best things you can do to retain your memory and promote brain health. Now, a new study has found that there's one exercise in particular that boosts your brain's performance, even after you've started showing signs of cognitive aging. Read on to find out which easy and accessible exercise could help keep your brain young in the years to come.

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Doing tai chi can help improve your memory.

Group of seniors in Tai Chi class exercising in an active retirement lifestyle. Mental and physical health benefits of exercise and fitness in elderly people. Senior health care and wellbeing concept.

An Oct. 2023 study published in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that doing tai chi is one of the best exercises for reversing the effects of cognitive aging. The results were based on data from 300 individuals with an average age of 75, all of whom had mild cognitive impairment or self-reported concerns about their memory.

The study subjects took a 10-minute test to evaluate their cognitive health before and after completing six months of twice-weekly tai chi. On average, they increased their scores on the test by 1.5 points—the rough equivalent of reducing your brain's age by three years.

Tai ji quan is a good place to start.

older people practice tai chi
cowardlion / Shutterstock

Even a simplified form of tai chi known as tai ji quan was found to be effective in promoting cognitive health, the study authors noted. An especially accessible and gentle form of exercise, this is often used in clinical settings for older adults and individuals with movement disorders.

This particular form of tai chi uses low-impact motions that are slow and deliberate, allowing you to reap the benefits of tai chi without the risk of injury. "The movements are usually circular and never forced, the muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, the joints are not fully extended or bent, and connective tissues are not stretched," explains Harvard Health Publishing.

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Adding mental exercises can enhance the effects of tai chi.

man doing tai chi, over 50 fitness

To keep pace while doing tai chi, you'll need to memorize the choreography. This alone flexes your mental muscles, experts say.

However, the study authors found that you can further enhance the cognitive benefits of tai chi by adding more memory exercises to your physical movement. They recommend spelling a word as you move and then attempting to spell it backwards, for example.

The study authors note that the brain-boosting effects doubled to a three-point increase among study subjects who added extra cognitive challenges to their physical movement. "We've just given you six extra years of cognitive function," study author Elizabeth Eckstrom, MD, told NPR. "That's a lot."

Tai chi also comes with a range of other health benefits.

Seniors do Qi Gong or Tai Chi exercise in a wellness course in nature
Robert Kneschke / Shutterstock

Besides improving your cognitive health, tai chi is an excellent way to build muscle strength, improve flexibility, build balance, and improve your heart health. This can reduce your risk of injury and chronic illness over time.

It can also increase mindfulness and provide mental health benefits including reduced rates of depression and anxiety, according to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

As with any new exercise routine, be sure to speak with your doctor about any concerns you may have before getting started.

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Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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