A comprehensive solution for achieving and sustaining peak mental and physical performance for healthy aging.
By Andrea Renee Rivera, AOBTA-ABT CP
Tai Chi is a very comprehensive and effective form of mental and nervous system training. It is an accessible form of low impact aerobic exercise suitable for all ages and fitness levels. It not only works the body, but also because it includes a complex, dance-like, learned motor sequence, it creates a sustained focus of attention and meditative state. Numerous studies have shown that mind-body practices like Tai Chi that incorporate focused attention, meditation and motor learning promote positive changes in brain structure and function in addition to the physical benefits of sustainable increased strength, mobility, flexibility and balance.
1. Promotes brain growth and regeneration
Seniors who practiced Tai Chi three times a week for 40 weeks increased their gray matter brain volume in the Hippocampus learning and memory regions. Such increases in brain volume have been achieved in as little as 8 weeks after a mindfulness-stress reduction program.
2. Increases brain function
Tai Chi helps to train the brain to work more efficiently and effectively. Practicing as little as three days a week has been shown to increase memory retention, ability to focus on tasks, and the ability to make more conscious and less emotionally reactive decisions in a short amount of time. Those with a daily 40 minute mind-body practice of meditation like Tai Chi, had thicker cortical walls of the brain than those who did not practice meditation. Thickness of cortical walls has been linked to cognitive decline. Study participants with a 40 minute meditation practice for as little as 8 weeks showed an increase in cortical wall thickness and faster decision making, greater focus and better memory.
3. Reduces stress and sustains emotional stability
Engaging in a habit of a meditative practice like Tai Chi, increases neuroplasticity, which is the process by which the brain’s neural pathways are reorganized by our life experiences. The quality of our neuroplasticity dictates our brain’s ability to rewire its neural net and functioning capacity in reaction to our lives. The quality of our brain’s neural net is the basis of our emotional stability. Studies have also shown that higher levels of gamma wave activity are present in in people who meditate that enable them to prevent themselves from getting stuck in overthinking patterns.
4. Increases physical strength with cardiovascular and immune benefits
Studies have shown that a Tai Chi master is 14 times stronger than his body weight. The master’s full strength blow accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in less than three seconds. “The transmission of the force is ensured by the fascial integrity, which is expressed by the motor activity produced; the tension produced by the sarcomeres results in muscle activity, using the various layers of the contractile districts (epimysium, perimysium, endomysium), with different directions and speed.” Other studies at Stanford and elsewhere have shown that adult practitioners gain balance, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and immune benefits.”
5. Maintains flexibility, mobility, balance and range of motion for arthritis pain
Tai Chi has been shown to greatly improve arthritic pain, balance and physical mobility and functioning after just 12 weeks of practice in older women with Osteo Arthritis. These patients had 35% less pain, 29% less Stiffness and 29% more ability to perform tasks of daily living, as well as improved abdominal muscles and better balance.