Tai Chi Research Shows Advantages for Elderly

Dec 9, 2008 10:26 PM. All work by ,

PUBLISHED by the Fenway News

BOSTON—A new study reveals that the Chinese art of Tai Chi may enhance your sense of touch and increase the size of your brain. Catherine Kerr and her team of researchers at the Harvard Medical School are finding that the elderly benefit the most, Kerr says.

In a small library at Harvard’s Landmark Center office, Kerr presented her findings on the acute sensitivity possessed by a group of Tai Chi practitioners from Brookline. The data suggests that people who practice the Chinese martial art in conjunction with meditation have a heightened sense of touch, Kerr says.

“It was a fairly simple study, but I think it has important implications for understanding the benefits of Tai Chi,” says Kerr.

A better mood, stronger legs and increased flexibility are a few of the benefits of Tai Chi, and there are many more, Kerr says. According to her, elderly people who practice Tai Chi also have a lower chance of falling down. Related research suggests that muscle and immune system improvements may also come from practicing Tai Chi.

The next leg of the project will be determining whether the Tai Chi students have developed larger sensory organs because of their training. In her presentation, Kerr cited a 2006 study done in London that revealed that certain kinds of training permanently alter the shape of certain regions of the brain—a phenomenon called neuroplasticity.

“This gives us some clues why Tai Chi may be health-promoting,” Kerr says, “but it doesn’t yet tell us definitively.” Kerr says that past studies have yet to precisely measure exactly the benefits of Tai Chi.

The research has been inexpensive so far, says Kerr, but she predicts the next phase will require roughly $100,000 to complete. In order to prove that the brain is actually changing, Kerr says she will need costly brain scans done on each of her research patients. She and her team plan to finish this next step of their study within a year.

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