Tai Chi is gaining in popularity in the United States. The practice originated in China as a mind and body exercise. While it is a type of martial art, it’s also referred to as “moving meditations,” according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Practitioners move their bodies through gentle, slow movements with awareness and while practicing deep breathing. Tai Chi has been credited with improving muscle strength, coordination, balance, and flexibility.
Studies show it may help prevent falls in elderly people and improve cardiovascular fitness. One review of research on Tai Chi, for example, found it helped lower blood pressure. Other research suggests the practice may help strengthen the immune system and lower cholesterol. Now, a new study suggests that practicing Tai Chi in a group may lower the risk of some types of illnesses that are linked to loneliness or psychological stress.
Researchers at the University of Southern California examined the impact of Tai Chi on older adults who practiced the exercise in a group setting. They found that the classes lowered both stress levels as well as the activity of substances in the body that play a role in regulating responses to stress. Studies have long shown that stress can boost inflammation in the body, contributing to a variety of disease processes. So by lowering the body’s inflammatory response, the activity can also improve health.
“Tai Chi is a relatively simple, low cost mind-body practice that may help older people better cope with stressors as they encounter feelings of loneliness in older adulthood,” says David Black, PhD, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.