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3 health benefits of tai chi



A traditional martial art of Chinese origin, tai chi, has proved to be a physical activity that’s beneficial to health, especially for combating certain cognitive disorders to alleviating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Like many sports, martial arts can make a significant contribution to keeping fit, combating sedentary lifestyles and improving concentration and mental well-being, but some of these disciplines can be more beneficial to health than others. Such is the case with tai chi, which, according to the French Federation of Chinese Martial Arts and Energy Practices (FFAEMC), is a Chinese martial art consisting of slowly and precisely sequenced, flowing, circular movements. It can be practiced with bare hands or with weapons. Two recent scientific studies have praised the discipline’s benefits for people with mild cognitive impairment or Parkinson’s disease − all the more reason to encourage people to take up this activity.

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Improving cognitive function

Researchers at the Oregon Research Institute investigated the effects of tai chi on people with mild cognitive impairment or self-reported memory problems. More than 300 older adults with such problems were randomly assigned to one of three groups: the first was invited to practice classic tai chi, the second did “cognitively enhanced” tai chi, and the third group did stretching exercises. All of this was carried out for one hour, twice a week, for 24 weeks, via sessions delivered online. The research, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, found that cognitively enhanced tai chi was more effective than the other two practices in improving cognitive function and reducing the risk of long-term dementia. The authors also noted improvements in memory, with benefits maintained at 48 weeks.

Alleviating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

Tai chi could also prove effective in curbing the symptoms and complications of Parkinson’s disease, a chronic neurodegenerative disorder which is currently incurable. A team of Chinese researchers followed two groups of patients with the disease for over five years, between January 2016 and June 2021. The first group was invited to do one-hour tai chi sessions twice a week, the second was the control group. Detailed in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, the study findings showed significant improvements in the “tai chi” group on several fronts: slower progression of the disease, lower doses of medication, slower deterioration of cognitive function as well as other symptoms such as sleep and quality of life, and a lower prevalence of disease-related complications.

Combating cognitive decline

Research published in April in JAMA Network Open reports that tai chi proved more effective than brisk walking in improving cognitive function in older people with type 2 diabetes and mild cognitive impairment. Led by researchers at Fujian University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the study involved 328 adults aged 60 and over with type 2 diabetes and mild cognitive impairment. At 36 weeks, the authors observed “significantly more benefit on global cognitive function” from tai chi than from brisk walking. While the researchers stress that more in-depth studies are needed to confirm these results on a larger sample, they note that interventions including this martial art could promote better physical and cognitive health.

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