The ancient Chinese martial art Tai Chi could reduce the risk of dementia, according to a new study.
Scientists at the Oregon Research Institute asked more than 200 people over the age of 65 with impaired memory to complete a virtual Tai Chi program.
After five and a half months, they completed several tests measuring memory, orientation, sleep quality and depression, and the results were compared with those of a group that did stretching exercises.
Those who practiced a specific type of Tai Chi, which involved saying words and phrases while holding positions designed to improve flexibility and balance, saw three times greater improvements in cognitive skills compared to the stretching group. Follow-up testing almost a year later showed continued improvements.
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that involves performing a series of movements designed to increase balance, concentration and flexibility.
Commenting on the results in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the researchers said their findings show that the exercise plan can “potentially reduce the risk of developing dementia.”
They added that the “magnitude of improvement” observed in the study shows that Tai Chi could “slow or counteract several years of cognitive decline and maintain the functional capacity that is essential for living independently.”
It comes a week after Chinese researchers found that practicing Tai Chi was linked to slower deterioration in patients with Parkinson’s disease.
Experts from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China followed 330 patients with the progressive neurological disease for three years and found that those who practiced Tai Chi had a slower decline, year after year, compared to those who did not.
Tai Chi has shown benefits for both cognitive decline and Parkinson’s disease
The team found improvements in many different types of Parkinson’s symptoms: those that affect movement, such as stiffness and tremor, and non-mobility problems, such as fatigue, speech problems and anxiety.
It is estimated that about one in 10 Americans over age 65 have dementia (about 7 million people).
One notable victim is Die Hard actor Bruce Willis, 68, who was recently diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, his ex-wife Demi Moore revealed earlier this year.
A common precursor to the condition is what is known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI), in which memory, orientation and other cognitive functions are compromised, but not enough to constitute a diagnosis of dementia.
Hollywood star Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with dementia, his ex-wife Demi Moore announced earlier this year. He married his current wife, Emily Heming-Willis, 45, in 2009.
Demi Moore announced her ex-husband’s dementia diagnosis earlier this year in a heartfelt Instagram post in which she said he was facing challenges with communication, among other symptoms.
Studies show that about 10 to 20 percent of people over 65 with mild cognitive impairment develop dementia within a year; It is an important risk factor for the disease.
In the latest study, 304 older people with mild cognitive impairment were divided into three groups: one did an hour of regular Tai Chi twice a week for five and a half months, another did the same amount of simple stretches, and the rest did one type exercise special. Cognitively enhanced martial art called Tai Chi.
All groups received instructions via video call and completed the exercises at home.
At the end of the experiment, memory, attention, language, orientation, and spatial awareness scores improved by three points, on average, for those in the enhanced Tai Chi group.
Those who practiced Tai Chi regularly improved by 1.7 points and those who stretched by only 0.3 points.
Scientists have discovered that Tai Chi can also relieve the tremors seen in Parkinson’s disease.
The researchers also found that their ability to multitask increased by 20 percent, while there was no change in the stretching group.
Experts aren’t entirely sure what may be behind this promising benefit. However, practicing reflective movements while remembering specific phrases is believed to improve connectivity between different parts of the brain.
Other studies have found that physical activity, including Tai Chi, can increase the level of the brain hormone dopamine, which serves multiple functions, including controlling movement and mood.
One of the hallmarks of Parkinson’s disease is a severe lack of dopamine, caused by the degeneration of nerve cells in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra, which controls movement.
IS BALLROOM DANCING GOOD FOR OLDER PEOPLE?
Seniors are recommended to practice tango and ballroom dancing to reduce the risk of falls and injuries.
In June 2017, dance scientist Dr Emma Redding, from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, said dance classes could help prevent falls, which are the leading cause of emergency hospital admissions for pensioners in Great Britain. Britain and kill almost 5,000 people each year.
The slower, more structured dance styles of tango and ballroom strengthen seniors’ ankles and core, helping them maintain balance.
Older people are at higher risk of falls due to the muscle deterioration and loss of balance that comes with age, as well as vision problems and medication side effects.
They advise older people to practice tango and ballroom dancing to reduce the risk of falls and injuries
Dr Redding also said dance classes can help widowed people who feel lonely, while waltzing to traditional music can bring back valuable memories for people with dementia.
Before giving a talk at the Cheltenham Science Festival, he said: “When dancing you take physical risks that you wouldn’t take alone.” You shift your weight from side to side, front to back, like you wouldn’t when walking.
‘This helps with ankle and core stability and makes people much more confident when moving in everyday life.
“Postural alignment is very important in preventing falls in older people and could help keep them safe.”
Dancing burns six calories per minute for the average person, compared to 10 calories per minute in soccer.
This is particularly good for older people, who typically fail to meet their guideline of 150 minutes of moderate exercise and two or more days of strength training per week.