Published on 09-08-2015
The practice of tai chi is well known to provide a number of promising health benefits. Most of these are some by product of the increased circulation through the body while in a relaxed state. Many of the benefits, such as gait and balance improvements, can be seen in as little as 4-6 weeks and other more high level benefits can take decades of practice.
While many studies have looked at the benefits of Tai Chi, there are far fewer studies that compare differences between long-term, "expert", practitioners and short-term, "beginners". I think studies of this nature are quite important; both for tai chi and for other internal arts such as meditation.
Researchers in the study we will discuss, publishing in the "Global Advances in Health and Medicine" journal recently explored the long term effects of Tai Chi on cognitive function.
As age and lifestyle related memory decline is a growing issue both with an aging population in many countries and longer life spans, it is important to examine what may help us maintain our cognitive functions. From this study at least, tai chi appears to be one of the beneficial tools over the long term.
The "beginner" participants in the study were given 6 months of training and the "expert" participants had more than 12 years of training. The researchers recruited 60 beginners and 27 experts, all within the ages of 50-79, and related them by age and gender. Then using a range of cognitive function tests they evaluated their overall level of function.
The researchers found significant levels of cognitive maintenance in the expert practitioners. They concluded: "In healthy nonsedentary adults, long-term TC training may help preserve cognitive function; however, the effect of short-term TC training in healthy adults remains unclear."
I would think that seeing significant cognitive improvements in 6 months would be unlikely, but I also feel that you would not need 12+ years of practice to see them either. That said, when you examine some of the health benefits of Tai Chi on both immunity and cardiovascular function it is fairly clear that consistent practice would reap positive results by most accounts. A study evaluating after a year of practice with a one year followup, compared with a more middle of the road group - says 3-5 years of practice, would be ideal to evaluate this.
Either way, this study shows yet another reason to keep practicing tai chi. Certainly in my teaching experience (10+ years), I have seen amazing turn arounds in my senior students of the art. Primarily in cognition and balance/strength. Observationally, I have seen the majority of these benefits begin after 1 year of 2-4 days/week practice.
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