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Benefits of tai chi may delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease

Champaign, IL—November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month. More than 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Although there is no cure for the disease, recent studies published in the June issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease revealed that elderly people practicing tai chi just three times a week can boost brain volume and improve memory and thinking. This ancient form of slow, meditative exercise helps to create mental activity, and scientists believe it may be possible to delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

Tai chi has been part of traditional Chinese medicine for centuries and is practiced in over 150 countries. Now doctors in the United States are recognizing the physiological and psychological benefits of the exercise. According to Master Pixiang Qiu, a veteran tai chi instructor and coauthor of the new Tai Chi Illustrated (Human Kinetics, 2012), tai chi has the potential to improve many of the physiological and psychological aspects of chronic conditions. Tai chi is also a safe and effective intervention for promoting balance, cardiorespiratory fitness, and flexibility in older adults. “In fact, many cardiologists prescribe tai chi as an adjunct therapy for treatment of heart problems or as preventive therapy as well,” says Qiu.

In Tai Chi Illustrated, Qiu and coauthor Weimo Zhu offer a variety of practice tips and answer common questions for those interested in practicing tai chi.

  • What do I wear to practice tai chi? There are no specific requirements other than wearing clothing that is loose and comfortable. There are also no specific requirements for shoes; any exercise shoes or comfortable shoes with low heels are fine.
  • When should I practice tai chi? The best time of day to practice is in the morning because there's less of a chance of being interrupted or distracted at that time. Other times are also fine, but you should wait at least 30 minutes after eating a heavy meal.
  • How often and for how long should I practice tai chi? To get the best results, 30 to 60 minutes is the best length for practice, but any time is better than no time. Just 5 to 10 minutes of practice (especially the stances) here and there will also be beneficial. Ideally, you should practice every day. Try to practice tai chi at least three times a week.
  • Where should I practice tai chi? Outside in nature in the fresh air is best, but practice anywhere you can, such as in your office when taking a break.
  • Can I combine tai chi with other exercises? Tai chi can integrate with other exercises easily. If you already have a regular exercise routine, you can link it with your tai chi practice. For example, tai chi can be practiced as part of a cool-down after running.   

Tai Chi Illustrated offers a comprehensive look at the mind–body exercise with full-color photo sequences demonstrating the most popular tai chi routines. Photos are accompanied by numbered steps that explain how to execute each move, making the exercises accessible for beginning and intermediate audiences alike.