New research conducted by scientists at the University of South Florida, USA, and Fudan University in China found that Chinese elderly who practiced Tai Chi three times a week showed an increase in brain volume along with improvements in memory and thought process.
Published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the study lasted eight months, and 120 elderly divided into four different groups (Tai Chi, Walking, Social Interaction and No Intervention).
The study showed that participants in the group “Social Interaction”, which consisted of lively discussions three times a week, showed an increase in brain volume, but more limited cognitive improvement than the group “Tai Chi”. The members of the group “No Intervention”, showed a shrinkage of the brain, similar to what has generally been observed for people in their 60s and 70s. The results of the group “Walk” were similar to the group “No Intervention.”
Previous studies have shown that people who perform aerobic exercise showed an increase in brain volume and an improvement in memory. The present study though was the first study to show that a less aerobic exercise, Tai Chi worked as well as stimulating discussion, can reap the same benefits in brain functioning.
Other research has shown that dementia and gradual cognitive impairment are associated with an increased shrinkage of the brain and where nerve cells and their connections are gradually shredded.
According to Dr. James Mortimer, author of the study, the ability to reverse this trend with an increase in physical exercise and mental activity implies that it may be possible to delay the onset of dementia in older people through basic interventions that offer many other benefits for physical and mental health.
The research further suggests that aerobic exercise is associated with increased production of growth factors in the brain and that now it should be determined why forms of exercise such as Tai Chi, which include an important component of mental exercise, can lead to similar changes in the production of these factors .
Another issue raised by the survey is that the continuous physical and mental exercise can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Mortimer believes that epidemiological studies have repeatedly shown that individuals who do more exercise or who are more socially active, have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. He added that the current results suggest that this lower risk may be a result of the growth and preservation of critical regions of the brain affected by this disease.
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