"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

A sharper mind: Tai Chi can improve cognitive function.

Until about 20 years ago, it was thought that your brain only produced recent cells early in life. But research shows that the brain has the flexibility to vary throughout your life, growing recent cells, making recent connections, and even increasing in size. These changes can improve cognitive function—and various types of exercise, including tai chi, might help.

In a meta-analysis of 20 studies on tai chi and cognition, tai chi appeared to enhance executive function—the flexibility to multitask, manage time, and make decisions—in people with none cognitive deficits. In individuals with mild cognitive impairment, tai chi slowed the progression of dementia in comparison with other varieties of exercise and improved their cognitive function in comparison with other varieties of exercise or cognitive training.

In one study, researchers had nearly 400 Chinese men and ladies with some cognitive impairment perform either tai chi or a stretching and toning program 3 times per week. After one 12 months, the tai chi group improved more, and only 2% of the group developed dementia, in comparison with 11% of the normal exercise group.

In one other study, tai chi improved walking performance. After 40 weeks of tai chi, walking, social interaction, or no intervention, the researchers compared MRI images and discovered that the tai chi group had the best increase in brain volume. In addition, this group also performed higher on cognitive tests.

Photo: © kali9 | Getty Images