Recent scientific research has focused a lot on how to stay sharp in your twilight years. We already know that getting enough sleep can significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s in people over the age of 70, and studies have also indicated that low levels of alcohol (two units or less) can have longterm benefits for the brain. Another recent study has indicated that practicing meditation for just 10 minutes a day can offer a massive boost to brain health in older adults.
Now, a new study published in the Journal of Neuroimaging says that the ancient art of Tai Chi has unexpected physical and psychological benefits in the elderly. Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy, researchers measured brain and muscle chemistry in 6 older adults enrolled in a 12-week Tai Chi program. What they found was that the practice significantly increased the brain’s metabolism and improved recovery rates in leg muscles.
While the sample size was small, the implications are potentially big. “The benefits of Tai Chi have been well known anecdotally; however recent research such as our study can quantify these improvements using objective measures,” said senior author Dr. Alexander Lin, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Tai chi, short for T’ai chi ch’üan, or Taijiquan, is an internal Chinese martial art practice, which uses relatively slow movements to practice breathing, mindfulness, response drills, and self-defense techniques. Like meditation, it uses focus techniques to foster mental calm and clarity. Unlike meditation, however, it also aids the muscles and provides physical stress relief. Since it also teaches you some basic combat stances, and involves more movement, it’s an especially nice option for people who want to meditate but find it a little bit boring.
Previous studies have shown the ancient martial arts practice to have numerous benefits for seniors, such as improving balance and flexibility and lowering blood pressure. Another recent study, published in Chest, found that it can be as effective as traditional medical treatment to ease a number of respiratory diseases. So if you haven’t tried Tai Chi before, now might be a good time to start. And for more great advice on aging, check out the 40 Things No One Over 40 Should Ever Buy!
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