Tai Chi and Depression
In the United States alone, approximately two million people age 65 or older suffer from depression. Over half of those are living in nursing homes. It's a serious public health issue for an aging population where the suicide rate among white men over the age of 85 is six times the national average.
Promising new research is showing that regular Tai Chi training could have a beneficial impact on the elderly suffering from depression when combined with traditional depression treatments. In addition, some seniors benefit from taking anti-aging supplements, noting increased energy and vitality.
Related: Anti-Aging Superfoods
What Is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is a 2,000-year-old martial art practiced in a slow moving, meditative way that promotes relaxation through deep breathing and concentration on form and movement.
The health benefits of Tai Chi have been documented for some time now and include:
- Lower body strengthening
- Improved balance and flexibility
- Improved memory and cognitive function
- Reduced feelings of anxiety
- More energy
- Better sleep
The fact that Tai Chi is a gentle form of exercise that most elderly adults can safely practice makes it a practical activity for them to do. It will improve their lower body strength, balance, promote deep breathing for greater relaxation and lessen feelings of anxiety, improve their memory and cognitive function and get them engaged in a social setting.
The Mind Body Connection
In a study conducted in Japan on 529 elderly test subjects, all of which reported depressive symptoms, long term Tai Chi training significantly reduced their symptoms. The researchers concluded that while much more testing needs to be done to draw any definitive conclusions, "long-term Tai Chi training is independently related to a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms"
In a similar study conducted in the United States at UCLA, researchers divided up two groups of elderly adults who reported symptoms of depression. Both groups were given a standard depression medication, but one group was enrolled in a westernized version of Tai Chi (Chih) weekly, while the other group only received education classes once a week.
Both groups saw an improvement in their depression symptoms, but those who participated in the tai chi saw a greater improvement in their quality of life reporting more energy and better memory and cognitive function.
"We know that two-thirds of elderly patients who seek treatment for depression fail to achieve relief with prescribed medication," said Dr. Helen Lovretsky, a UCLA professor-in-residency in psychiatry.
The significance of these kinds of findings means that there is potentially a very safe and effective new way to improve the outcomes of treating depression in older adults without the need for additional medications. Along with regular exercise, aging adults can also taking anti-aging supplements which may help them feel more energized later in life when energy levels tend to fade.
A Win-Win with Tai Chi
When you really think about it, these findings are not that surprising. The medical community has long advocated exercise, meditation and socialization for better mental health for anyone at any age. Since many seniors report fear of getting hurt from falling, loss of their mobility, independence and isolation as some of the causes of their depression, it makes sense that a form of exercise that would help them with all of those things would lessen their feelings of depression.
Seniors who are struggling with feelings of depression despite prescription drugs for treatment might find their symptoms greatly reduced if they begin practicing Tai Chi. At the very least, they will be getting some exercise, engaging their mind as well as their body in a social setting with others which will have other health benefits besides helping to alleviate depression.