Tai chi boosts brain size
Scientists have discovered that practising this ancient martial art doesn’t just reduce stress and improve balance – it actually increases brain volume and memory.
The findings, from the University of South Florida and Fudan University in Shanghai, were based on an 8-month randomised controlled trial comparing people who practised tai chi three times a week to a group who did not. Previous trials have shown increases in brain volume and improvements in memory in people who participated in aerobic exercise.
However, this was the first trial to show that a less aerobic form of exercise, tai chi, led to similar increases in brain volume and improvements on psychological tests of memory and thinking. The group that did not participate in the interventions showed brain shrinkage over the same time period, consistent with what generally has been observed for persons in their 60s and 70s.
Use it or lose it
Numerous studies have shown that dementia and the syndrome of gradual cognitive deterioration that precedes it is associated with increasing shrinkage of the brain as nerve cells and their connections are gradually lost. “The ability to reverse this trend with physical exercise … implies that it may be possible to delay the onset of dementia in older persons through interventions that have many physical and mental health benefits,” said lead author Dr. James Mortimer, professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida College of Public Health.
Research suggests that aerobic exercise is associated with increased production of brain growth factors. It remains to be determined whether forms of exercise like Tai Chi that include an important mental exercise component could lead to similar changes in the production of these factors. “If this is shown, then it would provide strong support to the concept of “use it or lose it” and encourage seniors to stay actively involved both intellectually and physically,” Dr Mortimer said.