“What helps with aging is serious cognition – thinking and understanding. You have to truly grasp that everybody ages. Everybody dies. There is no turning back the clock. So the question in life becomes: What are you going to do while you’re here?” – Goldie Hawn
Aging inevitably involves declining physical and mental ability. Starting in the late twenties the body, including the brain begins a process of slow deterioration. There is no known treatment to prevent this decline. There are, however, things that can be done to slow the progression. For example, a healthy diet and a regular program of exercise can slow the physical decline of the body with aging.
Our mental abilities may also decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem solving ability. In sum these are called age related cognitive decline. This occurs to everyone as they age, but to varying degrees. Some deteriorate into a dementia, while others maintain high levels of cognitive capacity into very advanced ages. It is estimated that around 30% of the elderly show significant age related cognitive decline. But, remember that this also means that 70% of the elderly retain reasonable levels of cognitive ability.
There are some indications that physical and mental exercise can reduce the rate of cognitive decline and lower the chances of dementia. Tai Chi is an ancient eastern practice involving slow mindful movements. It is both a gentle exercise and a contemplative practice that improves mindfulness. Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve cognitive processes (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/cognition/) while Tai Chi or Qigong practice has been shown to be beneficial for healthy aging (see links below). It would seem reasonable to hypothesize that Tai Chi practice might decrease age related cognitive decline.
In today’s Research News article “The Impact of Tai Chi on Cognitive Performance in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”
Wayne and colleagues review the published research on the application of Tai Chi to reduce age related cognitive decline in both elderly individuals who have already demonstrated cognitive decline and those who have not. They found that Tai Chi practice significantly reduced declines in executive function, including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, problem solving and planning and execution. Tai Chi practice was also found to reduce declines in overall global cognitive function, including learning and memory, mathematical ability and semantic fluency. In addition, these improvements related to Tai Chi practice occurred in both individuals who had already experienced cognitive decline and those who had not. Importantly, these benefits were provided without any significant adverse side effects.
Wayne and colleagues hypothesize that Tai Chi may be having its positive effects on cognition through a number of mechanisms. These include the exercise provided by the practice with associated improvements in agility and mobility, the learning of a new skill, the required attentional focus, shifting, and multi-tasking, the mindfulness practice, and the social context of Tai Chi. Any and all of these process involved in Tai Chi practice may be responsible for its cognitive benefits.
Regardless of the mechanism, it appears that Tai Chi is a safe and effective practice that reduces the rate of age related cognitive decline whether or not decline was already present. These are exciting findings as Tai Chi has been shown to have many physical benefits for the elderly (see links below). The fact that it also has cognitive benefits makes it an even better choice for practice by the elderly.
So practice Tai Chi and stay mentally fit as you age.
“Tai chi… might well be called “medication in motion.” There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice…has value in treating or preventing many health problems.” – Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publication, May, 2009
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
Tai Chi and Qigong Effects on Aging Links
This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available at the Contemplative Studies Blog http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/
Age Healthily with Qigong – Soothing Stress Responses
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Mindfulness Effects on Cognitive Function