Tai Chi Boosts Brain Functioning, Study Suggests

An ancient Chinese exercise may give your memory a lift, according to new research.

University of South Florida and Fudan University scientists found that elderly Chinese people who practiced Tai Chi thrice weekly for eight months did better on memory tests than those who didn't do Tai Chi.

These people also experienced growth in brain volume, which is promising considering before dementia, the brain actually shrinks because of lost nerve connections, researchers said.

"The ability to reverse this trend with physical exercise and increased mental activity implies that it may be possible to delay the onset of dementia in older persons through interventions that have many physical and mental health benefits," study researcher Dr. James Mortimer, professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida College of Public Health, said in a statement.

The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease study included 120 elderly people from Shanghai, China, who were assigned to do one of three things for eight weeks -- Tai Chi, walking or social interaction. Some were also assigned to do none of the interventions.

The researchers found that people who took part in "lively discussion" thrice weekly also had brain volume boosts, as well as improvements in brain functioning (although at a lesser extent as with the Tai Chi).

"Epidemiologic studies have shown repeatedly that individuals who engage in more physical exercise or are more socially active have a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease," Mortimer added. "The current findings suggest that this may be a result of growth and preservation of critical regions of the brain affected by this illness."

Previously, a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that a kind of Chinese mindfulness meditation practice called integrative body-mind training was linked to positive brain changes that could be protective against mental illness.