Like other forms of sport, martial arts can combat sedentary lifestyles, helping practitioners keep fit while experiencing improved concentration and overall mental-physical wellbeing.
Some of these disciplines can be more beneficial to health than others. Such is the case with tai chi, the Chinese martial art consisting of slowly and precisely sequenced, flowing, circular movements. Already popular among many Malaysians, it is usually practised with bare hands.
Now, two scientific studies have praised the benefits of tai chi for people with mild cognitive impairment and Parkinson’s disease – all the more reason to take up this activity.
Improved cognitive function
Researchers at the Oregon Research Institute investigated the effects of tai chi on people with mild cognitive impairment or self-reported memory problems.
More than 300 older adults with such problems were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first was invited to practise classic tai chi; the second did “cognitively enhanced” tai chi; and the third group did stretching exercises.
This was carried out for an hour twice a week, for 24 weeks, via sessions delivered online.
The research, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, found that cognitively enhanced tai chi was more effective than the other two practices in improving cognitive function and reducing the risk of long-term dementia. The authors also noted improvements in memory, with benefits maintained at 48 weeks.
Meanwhile, research published in April in the journal Jama Network Open reports that tai chi proved more effective than brisk walking in improving brain function in older people with type-2 diabetes and mild cognitive impairment.
Led by researchers at Fujian University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the study involved 328 adults aged 60 and over with type-2 diabetes and mild cognitive impairment. At 36 weeks, the authors observed “significantly more benefit on global cognitive function” from tai chi than from brisk walking.
Progress with Parkinson’s
Tai chi could also prove effective in curbing the symptoms and complications of Parkinson’s disease, a chronic neurodegenerative disorder that is currently incurable.
A team of Chinese researchers followed two groups of patients with the disease from January 2016 to June 2021. The first group was invited to do one-hour tai chi sessions twice a week, while the second was the control group.
Detailed in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, the findings showed significant improvements in the tai chi group on several fronts: slower progression of the disease; lower doses of medication; slower deterioration of cognitive function and symptoms such as sleep and quality of life; and a lower prevalence of disease-related complications.
While the researchers stress that more in-depth studies are needed to confirm these results on a larger sample, they note that interventions – including this martial-art form – could promote better physical and cognitive health.