Tai Chi to Assist the Elderly with Depression?

Research has long shown that the Chinese practice of tai chi can relieve stress and anxiety, elevate physical functioning, and even improve the quality of sleep. Although some variations of the ancient art can be more fast-paced, many forms are gentle, and can be practiced by people of all ages and physical abilities. In a recent study in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, and noted in the New York Times, evidence has emerged which suggests that tai chi can also assist older adults in the reduction of depressive symptoms. In the study of older adults who had been diagnosed with major depression, the participants (with an average age of 70) were assigned randomly to two different groups for a ten week class: one in health education, the other a course in tai chi. Following the course, 94% of the tai chi participants showed significant improvement based on the depression scales. Although those in the health education group evinced a 77% improvement in depression, the tai chi group showed the added benefit of improvements in blood tests for inflammation levels, as well as elevated physical and cognitive functioning. Considering the frequently reported difficulties in treating older people for depression, particularly because other health problems so often require significant drug treatment, tai chi may offer a simple and approachable option to reduce depressive symptoms. Mounting evidence of added physical benefits, coupled with the advantage of built-in social interaction, may further future research on the potential of this artful ancient practice.