Tai Chi named as perfect exercise for the elderly
PRACTISING the ancient martial art of Tai Chi is so beneficial to elderly people’s health that it should be "the preferred mode of training", according to scientists.
Researchers found that older people who regularly performed the traditional Chinese “mind and body” technique were less likely to suffer high blood pressure and were physically stronger.
They concluded that the improvement of heart function combined with increased muscular power meant that the martial art should be considered the preferred technique for elderly people to maintain good health.
Tai Chi, which has grown in popularity throughout the world, is typified by slow, deliberate repetitive movements and is based on co-ordination and relaxation rather than muscular tension. It is believed that focusing the mind solely on the movements helps to bring about a state of mental calm and clarity.
In the Hong Kong study, pulse measurements showed that Tai Chi specifically improved expansion and contraction of the arteries — known as arterial compliance, an important indicator of heart health — and increased knee muscle strength. A number of earlier studies have shown that strength training alone has been accompanied by a decline in arterial compliance.
The findings were published online in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
The study involved 65 elderly subjects from Hong Kong, 29 recruited from local Tai Chi clubs who had each practised the technique for at least 90 minutes a week for three years, and 36 controls with no such experience.
Initial results showed that the Tai Chi subjects were superior in almost all medical observations, including blood pressure, vascular resistance and pulse pressure. Measurements also showed that both large and small artery compliance was 40-44 per cent higher in the Tai Chi group.
Additional analysis showed that the Tai Chi subjects had greater average muscle strength.
The effect of Tai Chi training in lowering blood pressure has been documented previously. Dr William Tsang from the The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong, who led the research, said: “However 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.
“The improvement in arterial compliance could have resulted from a combination of aerobic training, stretching, mental concentration and calm meditation during Tai Chi movement,” he said.
Dr Tsang said the added appeal of Tai Chi was that it could be practised any time and anywhere without the constraints of equipment or a gymnasium.