A new study from Taiwan suggests that the ancient system of movement known as tai chi can slow the aging process. Researchers conducted a yearlong study comparing the effects of the practice to those of brisk walking or to no exercise at all among a group of volunteers under the age of 25. Study co-author Shinn-Zong Lin explained that his team used young volunteers because “they have better cell-renewing abilities than the old population, and we also wanted to avoid having chronic diseases and medications as interfering factors.” The researchers compared CD34+ cells in the three groups of volunteers and found that those in the tai chi group had counts “significantly higher” than the brisk-walking group. These cells are important “cluster markers” for blood stem cells that are involved in cell self-renewal, differentiation and proliferation changes that amount to rejuvenating and “anti-aging” effects, the researchers said. They also noted that tai chi has been confirmed to benefit patients with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease and fibromyalgia, and cited tai chi’s possible advantages for pain reduction, fall prevention, balance improvement, aerobic capacity, blood pressure, quality of life and stress reduction.
My take? Tai chi is a practical and enjoyable form of mental and physical stimulation and is beneficial for overall health. Like yoga, tai chi is an effective method of stress reduction and relaxation, and it promotes flexibility, balance, and improved body awareness. It is pleasant to watch and perform, and may be particularly helpful for the elderly, as it reduces risk of injury from falls. While it certainly has potential to improve longevity, we’ll need more studies to determine if it can actually reverse the effects of aging.