Tai Chi May Improve Mental Health in Seniors

Tai Chi, a form of exercise that focuses on gentle movements, balance and coordination, can help improve the psychological and physical health of older individuals, new research shows. Seniors, in particular, are at greater risk for physical and cognitive impairment, and often reduce physical activity as they age. Previous studies have shown that any regular physical activity can increase neurotransmitter activity and release endorphins, elevate mood and increase psychological health. Because tai chi is a full body exercise that can be performed with relatively minimal impact, it is an excellent choice for seniors.

A recent study examined 35 separate sources of data to determine what benefits this ancient form of exercise had on physical conditions such as hypertension, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, depression and negative moods in seniors. The data was collected from English, Korean and Chinese sources and was reviewed by researchers in South Korea and England.

Although the results were inconclusive for several of the physical conditions, the findings did show that tai chi provided clear mental health benefits and also proved an effective exercise for the prevention of falls and increased balance and coordination. However, there was no clear indication that tai chi had any positive impact on any of the other physical health conditions, with the exception of a slight improvement in arthritic symptoms, flexibility and strength.

"Our overview showed that tai chi, which combines deep breathing and relaxation with slow and gentle movements, may exert exercise-based general benefits for fall prevention and improvement of balance in older people as well as some meditative effects for improving psychological health," wrote study authors Myeong Soo Lee of the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine in South Korea, and Dr. Edzard Ernst of the University of Exeter in England. "We recommend tai chi for older people for its various physical and psychological benefits. However, tai chi may not effectively treat inflammatory diseases and cardiorespiratory disorders," they concluded.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Tracy M

    Tracy M

    May 24th, 2011 at 4:25 AM

    It’s always good to combine exercise and treatment because if the habit of Tai Chi is developed in a senior, chances are that it will not only help overcome the disorder but will also safeguard the senior in the future.

  • logan


    May 24th, 2011 at 12:35 PM

    Do you think that this is as good as yoga, even for those of us who do not necessarily need something low impact but are just looking for a new way to relax and unwind?

  • Adele Downey

    Adele Downey

    May 25th, 2011 at 7:45 PM

    I don’t really think Tai Chi is as safe for seniors as this article makes it sound.

    Very elderly men and women barely walk right, let alone do the movements needed with tai chi. You need to have good balance to practice this form of exercise. One stumble and they could break a hip!

  • judith carson

    judith carson

    May 25th, 2011 at 8:58 PM

    @Adele- Seriously? I think you must be confusing Tai Chi with something else, Adele. Tai Chi is actually the least-demanding form of exercise I can think of. It’s safe for seniors to do and you’re unlikely to lose your balance if you pay attention to what you’re doing. The movements are very slow and measured.

    It’s been practiced since ancient times in China. If it were that dangerous, it would have fallen by the wayside by now. It’s no fad.

  • M.S. Chapman

    M.S. Chapman

    May 27th, 2011 at 9:43 PM

    Tai-Chi can help improve your balance. When you get old, you become more fragile, and even a simple fall as has been said can break bones or even kill you. I worked in a nursing home so I know how cautious you need to be with the elderly and careful around them. It’s surprising how brittle their bones can get.

  • K. G. Hancock

    K. G. Hancock

    May 29th, 2011 at 9:57 PM

    @logan It’s a lot easier to do than yoga since you’re not attempting to put yourself in positions where you might pull a muscle like a full lotus position.

    Try it out sometime and see how you like it! It’s not very difficult at all. Meditation would be another good choice for relaxation.

  • Kathleen S.

    Kathleen S.

    April 28th, 2015 at 5:51 PM

    Hi there! Great article you have, I would also want to share my thoughts that Tai Chi indeed has positive effects not only in the body but also in the mind, a total holistic wellness that brings us to know our inner-self better. It gives us a peace of mind that helps us have a much better perception about our lives.

    Our advocacy is to promote the positive effects of Tai Chi, meditation, yoga and inner wellness.

    Help us, visit our website at iamthechangeiseek.org and also my blog at goodreads.com/kathleensuneja

    Thank you and have a great day!

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