There are lots of jokes about forgetting where you put your keys, but as we get older, changes in mental function are no laughing matter.
According to Harvard Medical School, these changes can begin at age 50 and by the age of 70, one in six people have mild cognitive impairment which can progress to Alzheimer’s disease.
You may notice a decrease in your ability to juggle multiple tasks, process information rapidly or focus on detail.
However, recent research has shown that the brain has the ability to generate new cells throughout your entire life span, not only early in life. Your brain can make new connections and even increase in size later in life which can also improve cognitive function.
Exercise can help, but it doesn’t have to be vigorous or high impact to work mental magic. Studies have shown that the ancient Chinese form of exercise called tai chi is effective in improving both mind and body function.
This mind-body exercise has been gaining popularity over the past few decades and was originally created as a martial art. Today, however, it is considered to be more of a meditative practice.
In a meta-analysis of 20 studies on tai chi and cognition, tai chi appears to improve executive function — the ability to multitask, manage time and make decisions in people without any cognitive decline.
In people with mild cognitive decline, tai chi slowed the progression of dementia more than any other type of exercise and improved cognitive function as well as other forms of exercise or cognitive training.
In fact, tai chi has become widely recognized as one of the most powerful tools we have to improve both physical and mental health.
Here are six other scientifically proven benefits:
- Better balance. Studies show that older adults who do hour-long tai chi sessions one to three times a week slash their injury risk in half and are 43 percent less likely to fall.
- Reduced pain. A growing number of clinical trials show that tai chi offers significant relief from back, neck, arthritis and fibromyalgia pain.
- Boost mood. In 82 percent of studies, tai chi greatly improved mood and lowered anxiety. It’s also an effective treatment for depression. According to a recent article in Stanford Medicine, during an activity like tai chi neurons pick up on your controlled breathing, signaling the body to enter a state of tranquility. A major goal of tai chi is moving the flow of “qi”, or energy, around the body. This is done through slow, deep breathing which leaves you with the same energy and calm alertness that you feel after a good night’s rest.
- Decreases blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association’s publication Heart Insight Magazine, tai chi may positively affect blood cholesterol, related lipids and inflammation. It is also as effective in lowering blood pressure as other popular methods, such as losing weight and recusing sodium intake.
- It makes you stronger. Even though this is a very gentle form of exercise, Harvard researchers say it’s excellent for toning and building muscle. Flowing between the movements engages your core, back, arm and leg muscles, making tai chi and excellent low-impact exercise option.
- It builds community and social connections. According to experts, it’s important to stay active and connected with others to lower your risk of dementia. Attending tai chi classes with others keeps you accountable and makes you stick to a regular activity. While you work up a sweat and build muscles, your also build positive memories and personal contacts that help you stay sharp.
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