Summary and excerpts from:
University of Berkeley | Wellness: Mind-Body Exercise
The ancient practices of Yoga and Tai Chi have become increasingly popular in the Western world, where you’ve probably heard them referred to as “mind-body” practices—a term loosely applied to activities or therapies that combine physical movement with a heightened awareness of the body in the present moment.
There’s accumulating scientific evidence to suggest that both Tai Chi and Yoga can help improve physical and mental health across a wide range of ages and health statuses. Benefits range from reducing pain and preventing falls to boosting mood and easing depression and anxiety.
Tai Chi (full name tai chi chuan) originated in China centuries ago as a martial art; it was an outgrowth of the ancient Taoist philosophy, which values tranquility and reflection. As it’s practiced today, Tai Chi combines elements of a workout, meditation, and dance. You may have seen groups practicing it outdoors under the guidance of a teacher.
Tai Chi consists of slow, balanced, low-impact movements performed in sequences known as “sets” or “forms. ” The postures and gestures are derived from animal movements. To do the sets correctly, you must learn controlled breathing, concentration, how to shift your body weight, and how to relax your muscles.
Here are some recent findings on Tai Chi’s benefits:
Boosted brain power. In a study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, which included 120 healthy older people in China, those who practiced Tai Chi three times a week for 40 weeks showed increases in brain volume and improvements on several tests of memory and learning, compared to those not doing the exercise.
Less depression and anxiety. Tai Chi showed positive effects on various measures of psychological well-being, including reduced depression, anxiety, and stress management, according to a systematic review of 42 studies in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. And Tai Chi yielded statistically significant reductions in anxiety symptoms in 12 of 17 studies included in a review in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine.
Better balance, fewer falls. Much research has shown that Tai Chi can improve balance and coordination, as well as reduce fall risk. Guidelines about fall prevention in older people from the American Geriatrics Society and its British counterpart recommend Tai Chi because it targets strength, gait, and balance.
Reduced pain and improved function in people with chronic conditions. In an analysis of 33 studies published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers looked at Tai Chi's effects in nearly 1,600 people with breast cancer, osteoarthritis, heart failure, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Overall, Tai Chi was found to have favorable effects on knee muscle strength, walking ability, and quality of life. In particular, it reduced pain and stiffness in people with osteoarthritis and shortness of breath in older people with COPD. Tai Chi was typically practiced two or three times a week for 12 weeks in the studies.