While martial arts are usually not a common recreational activity for seniors, researchers are now suggesting that mastering the moves of the ancient Chinese defense practice known as Tai chi will help foster a variety of health benefits. From improving stability and balance in Alzheimer's patients to providing proper exercise for seniors who have recently experienced heart failure, the advantages of learning tai chi are valuable as much as they are plentiful.

Tai chi is an exercise that focuses on balance, advanced breathing techniques and circular movements that are aimed to increase focus on self awareness. Professors at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center enlisted 100 patients with heart failure-related symptoms from the Brigham & Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital to study whether the training aided subjects who have undergone past heart treatments.

The researchers found that compared to minimal daily exercise, daily tai chi regimens were similar in patients' peak oxygen intake while significantly increasing the amount of calories burned per week. There was also reported improvement in the emotional states of the subjects after analyzing answers of self-mood questionnaires completed by participants over the course of the study.

Gloria Yeh, a professor at Harvard Medical School and co-author of the study, saw the benefits of practicing tai chi as a secure alternative in therapeutic treatment for those recently affected by heart failure.

"Tai chi is safe and has a good rate of adherence, and may provide value in improving daily exercise, quality of life, self-efficacy and mood in frail, deconditioned patients with systolic heart failure," Yeh said in a press statement. "Tai chi offers a complement to standard medical care. Because chronic heart failure is a progressive and debilitating condition, the independent importance of beneficially affecting patient-perceived quality of life is increasingly appreciated. Improvement of mood in this population is highly relevant."

One of the biggest physical advantages of learning tai chi is the improvement of overall flexibility, range of motion and reflexes. Another study that was published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that tai chi can reduce falls in seniors by 45 percent, a common plight experienced by those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease.

Further advantages of tai chi
According to the National Health Interview Survey, there are 2.3 million Americans who have used tai chi in the past 12 months. Some of the other health assets of practicing tai chi include:

  • Increased muscle strength
  • Ease in stiffness and pain
  • Improved hand-eye coordination
  • Better quality of sleep

If you are struggling with side effects of heart failure or Alzheimer's disease, tai chi might be the answer in alleviating your condition.