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Tai chi holds mental health benefits for seniors

June 21, 2012

As study after study has shown, staying active later in life is part of a healthy lifestyle for seniors, but new research suggests one exercise in particular may hold significant benefits. Scientists found seniors who practice tai chi had increased brain volume and improved cognitive function.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of South Florida and China's Fudan University, analyzed the effect tai chi had on a group of Chinese seniors. For eight months, one group practiced the exercise while the other had no intervention. The subjects who participated in tai chi not only showed an increase in brain volume but also performed better on memory and thinking tests than those who did not.

While aerobic exercise has shown a link between physical activity and mental health, this is one of the first studies to focus on a less-strenuous activity.

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

Aside from the mental health benefits it offers, tai chi may be a good idea for seniors because it puts very little stress on aging joints. Additionally, it can help improve muscle strength and balance along with reducing symptoms of arthritis, the Mayo Clinic says.