Practicing the ancient Chinese martial art of Tai Chi boosts the health of older people by lowering blood pressure and strengthening joints, a new study has revealed.
The Tai Chi mind-body technique involves slow, repetitive movements based on co-ordination and relaxation, rather than muscular tension.
Scientists from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University believe that by focusing the mind solely on the movements, it helps bring on a state of mental calm, which ultimately lowers blood pressure and helps to maintain a healthy heart.
Researchers discovered that people who practiced the technique recorded an improvement in the expansion and contraction of the arteries (also known as arterial compliance), which helps stave off cardiovascular disease.
They also noted a significant improvement in knee muscle strength.
The investigation involved 65 elderly participants from Hong Kong – 29 recruited from local Tai Chi clubs and spent 90 minutes a week for three years.
Heart measurements from each participant revealed a difference between those who practiced Tai Chi and those who didn’t – with the latter having 44% higher risk of heart disease than the Tai Chi group.
The study urged that this type of light, therapeutic exercise should be the “preferred mode of training’ for elderly people.
Although Tai Chi has long been known for its aerobic effects, this is first time a link between heart health and the technique has been established.
“This is the first study to investigate the possible effects of Tai Chi on arterial compliance by comparing older Tai Chi practitioners with non-practitioners similar in age and activity level,” says Dr. William Tsang from the study.
“The improvement in arterial compliance could have resulted from a combination of aerobic training, stretching, mental concentration and calm meditation during Tai Chi movement.”