Improve Your Memory With Tai Chi
Although any form or type of physical exercise can help improve memory and cognitive function, tai chi seems to have a particularly profound beneficial effect on the brain. The practice of tai chi triggers a brain state similar to meditation. In fact, tai chi is sometimes called “meditation in motion.” Although many people struggle to master the principles of meditation, anyone can do tai chi. Advanced tai chi can be very physically challenging, but there are versions of tai chi designed for beginners, seniors, and even wheelchair users.
What is tai chi?
Tai chi was originally a martial art, and its movements reflect its origin in warfare by simulating the manipulation of weapons and defensive/offensive movements. It emphasizes control of the core muscles of the body and good biomechanics. In its modern form, tai chi involves performing slow, highly controlled, and stylized movements combined with breathing control, body awareness, and deep mindfulness. These practices create a mental state indistinguishable from meditation.
Tai chi improves memory and cognition
It has been well-established that tai chi improves memory and cognition. Most studies on tai chi assign previously sedentary volunteers to a tai chi group or a control group. The control groups are either no intervention or some other type of exercise, frequently brisk walking. The volunteers take a battery of tests to assess their memory and cognitive functions before the intervention and then again after several weeks of the intervention. These studies consistently find that any form of exercise improves memory and cognition relative to no exercise, and tai chi is superior to any other form of exercise in improving memory and cognition.
Tai chi changes the brain
Several studies examined the brain of trial participants before they began practicing tai chi and then again after they had engaged in regular tai chi practice for several weeks. These studies found that tai chi actually changes the structure of the brain. It increases gray matter density and remodels parts of the brain, including the hippocampus, a key part of the brain involved in memory. Tai chi seems to promote brain plasticity and neuronal renewal.
Tai chi has many health benefits
In addition to improving memory and cognition, tai chi improves balance and muscle strength. It is also good for the cardiovascular system, with some studies showing it reduces blood pressure and improves the blood lipid profile.
How to get started with tai chi
The best way to get started with tai chi is to enroll in a group class. Wear loose, comfortable clothing and sensible shoes to class. If you can’t find a class, many instructional videos are available. Most of the studies on tai chi’s beneficial effects on the brain used three to five sessions per week and noticed a dramatic improvement in memory after as little as eight weeks of regular practice. Tai chi is low-impact and does not place the practitioner at risk of overuse or repetitive motion injuries; it can be practiced daily without ill effects.