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Practitioners of Tai Chi know that the ancient energy based martial art reduces pain, improves balance and mobility and muscle strength and reduces symptoms of conditions like osteoarthritis. Clearly, Tai Chi yields substantial physical health dividends, but does it have any influence over mood and mental health?

According to initial clinical studies, the answer is probably yes.

Tai Chi likely helps people cope with depression, anxiety, stress and other mood related disorders. Here’s an overview of some research findings that demonstrate the martial art’s effectiveness as a complementary mental health treatment.

Research on Tai Chi for Mental Health

Tai Chi and Depression for Older Adults

Researchers at UCLA looked at whether Tai Chi might help older adults with major depression who had not achieved remission with medication alone.

A pool of study subjects was divided into 2 groups. One group received 10 weeks of Tai Chi instruction (a once a week class and practice at home) and the other group received 10 weeks of health education (with practice exercises to do at home).

  • After the 10 week period, 65% of subjects in the Tai Chi group had achieved remission compared to 51% of subjects in the health education group.
  • Subjects from the Tai Chi group also scored higher on tests of cognitive abilities and had lower levels of inflammation in the body as measured by blood tests.1

A Review of 40 Studies Examining the Mental Health Benefits of Tai Chi

Researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine did a systematic review of studies previously done on the mental health benefits of Tai Chi.

  • They found that practitioners of Tai Chi could expect to benefit from decreased stress, anxiety and depression, increased self esteem and improved mood.

The researchers say that based on the study results it seems that Tai Chi practice is associated with improved psychological health. They note that further studies, particularly high quality control group studies, are needed to provide more concrete data on which to base medical decision making.2

Should You Practice Tai Chi?

While the research indicates that Tai Chi can help to alleviate symptoms of mental illness, reduce stress and improve mood and self esteem, more solid research is needed to illuminate how, or even if, Tai Chi really produces these mental benefits.

For the moment, though – Tai Chi is an activity that is known to have physical health benefits, very likely yields mental health benefits and has no significant side effects or risks associated with its practice.

Should you practice Tai Chi? Why not – It can’t hurt and it will probably help, and since there aren’t any side effects or risks associated with this particular mental health ‘treatment’ you have little to lose by giving it a try.

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Page last updated Sep 29, 2011

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