A new study from Taiwan suggests that Tai Chi can slow the aging process. Scientists at the Center for Neuropsychiatry at China Medical University Hospital in Taiwan conducted a yearlong study involving three different groups of volunteers under the age of 25. One group practiced Tai Chi(the ancient martial art that emphasizes breathing and slow, focused movements) for at least two hours a week, another group walked briskly for a minimum of two hours a week, and a third didn’t follow any specific exercise plan.
Study co-author Shinn-Zong Lin explained that his team used young volunteers because “they have better cell-renewing abilities than the old population, and we also wanted to avoid having chronic diseases and medications as interfering factors.”
Researchers have now conducted a retrospective cross-sectional study with the goal of comparing the anti-aging effects of different practices in 32 participants divided into three groups: a group that practiced Tai Chi (10 participants), a group that practiced brisk walking (10 participants), and a group with no exercise habit (12 participants).
The researchers compared CD34+ cells in the three groups of volunteers and found that those in the Tai Chi group had counts “significantly higher” than the brisk walking group. These cells are important “cluster markers” for blood stem cells that are involved in cell self-renewal, differentiation and proliferation changes that amount to rejuvenating and “anti-aging” effects, the researchers said.
Cell renewal is essential for maintenance and repair of organ systems and becomes less efficient as we age, so increasing the process is associated with anti-aging benefits. Tai Chi may increase blood flow and widen blood vessel walls, says Shinn-Zong Lin, MD, PhD, a researcher involved with the study.
The research team concluded that Tai Chi practice has an anti-aging effect due to the improvement it induces in CD34+ cell numbers. The authors also suggest that Tai Chi can offer a beneficial effect on patients with fibromyalgia, a medical disorder that can compromise the patient’s quality of life as they experience widespread chronic musculoskeletal pain, incapacitating fatigue, stiffness and numbness in certain parts of the body, painful response to pressure, headaches, poor sleep quality, anxiety and depression. The team suggests that Tai Chi may be valuable in reducing pain and stress, prevent falls and improve balance, blood pressure, aerobic capacity and quality of life. Ho, T.-J., Ho, L.-I., Hsueh, K.-W., Chan, T.-M., Huang, S.-L., Lin, J.-G., Liang, W.-M., Hsu, W.-H., Harn, H.-J., and Lin, S.-Z. (2014). Tai Chi Intervention Increases Progenitor CD34+ Cells in Young Adults. Cell Transplantation, 23: 613-