One of the most important things older adults want to maintain is the mind! Apart from being physically healthy enough to remain independent we also need a healthy mind to command that body. True independence requires a healthy mind and a healthy body. We keep telling you about all the good Tai Chi does for your body. However, Tai Chi also improves and maintains your mind.
Several studies have shown that physical exercise can slow down or reverse age-related cognitive decline. However, with Tai Chi, the benefit to the mind is thought to be a product of not only physical fitness but motor fitness. Motor fitness…”includes balance, speed, coordination, agility and power.”
Tai Chi may improve cognition because:
Focus on the Mind-Body Connection: Tai Chi teaches you to really pay attention to how and why you move the way you move. Each movement is slow, deliberate and well thought-out. This requires a higher level of mental involvement than just running where your mind is likely focused elsewhere, or you are listening to music or not really thinking about what you are doing.
Improved Blood Flow: Studies have shown that Tai Chi improves blood circulation. Increased blood flow to the brain involves increased oxygen delivery to your brain. Tai Chi is also thought to increase your brain’s response to growth factors and neurotrophins. Neurotrophins are the building blocks of nerves, which are the communication pathways your mind relies on to communicate with your body.
Growing your Brain: Tai Chi may improve the health of brain by improving the brain’s response to the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF has been shown to protect neurons and to improve the growth and multiplication of brain cells responsible for thinking and memory. This growth usually slows down as we get older, but Tai Chi may reverse that. Research shows that brain shrinkage is linked to dementia. Consequently, preventing or reversing shrinkage may lead to the delay or prevention of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Social Interaction: Tai Chi classes usually involve social interactions, including lively discussions because they bring together people with a shared interest. This physical activity coupled with lively interactions contributes to improved brain volume as well as memory. “Epidemiologic studies have shown repeatedly that individuals who engage in more physical exercise or are more socially active have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease…The current findings suggest that this may be a result of growth and preservation of critical regions of the brain affected by this illness.”
Stress Reduction: If you are like most people, when you are very stressed you lose your keys, your wallet and you would lose your head too if it weren’t attached to your neck! The stress hormone, cortisol, interferes with neurotransmitters (which communicate with your brain) and therefore long-term stress affects your ability to create and retrieve memories. Therefore, managing stress may reduce stress-related mental decline. Tai Chi is a fantastic stress reliever and may consequently be useful in preventing stress-induced cognitive decline.
These are just a few ways Tai Chi helps keep your mind sharp! If you would like to keep your mind working well into your sunset years then Tai Chi may be an asset. It will also keep your body in tune so you can have the best of both worlds and remain independent.
James A. Mortimer, Ding Ding, Amy R. Borenstein, Charles DeCarli, Qihao Guo, Yougui Wu, Qianhua Zhao, Shugang Chu. 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, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2012; 30 (4).
Wayne, Peter, and Mark Fuerst. The Harvard medical school guide to tai chi: 12 weeks to a healthy body, strong heart, and sharp mind. Boston: Shambhala, 2013. Print.