Easing ills through Tai Chi

Researchers study the benefits of this mind-body exercise.

Catherine Kerr Easing ills through Tai Chihas found an antidote for the hectic pace of laboratory life in the daily practice of tai chi. This centuries-old Chinese mind-body exercise, now gaining popularity in the United States, consists of slow-flowing, choreographed meditative movements with poetic names like “wave hands like clouds,” “dragons stirring up the wind,” and “swallow skimming the pond” that evoke the natural world. It also focuses on basic components of overall fitness: muscle strength, flexibility, and balance.

“Doing tai chi makes me feel lighter on my feet,” says Kerr, a Harvard Medical School (HMS) instructor who has practiced for 15 years. “I’m stronger in my legs, more alert, more focused, and more relaxed—it just puts me in a better mood all around.” Although she also practices sitting meditation and does a lot of walking, she says that the impact of tai chi on her mood were so noticeable—even after she was diagnosed with a chronic immune system cancer—that she has devoted her professional life to studying the effects of mind-body exercise on the brain at Harvard’s Osher Research Center. (more…)

Physical activity reduces stroke risk

Family physicians have a major responsibility to their patients to help them promote their general health, both physical and mental. Patients tend to require more frequent visits as they age, giving multiple possibilities for physicians to apply the latest medical research to promote patients’ well-being. In the past several years, research has shown physical activity and fitness to be major determinants of health. As recommended by the Exercise Is Medicine™ (EIM) initiative, exercise needs to be established as a vital sign and assessed at all doctor’s visits. In our recent study, we found a strong inverse relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and incident stroke. In fact, there was a 60% lower stroke incidence in the high-fitness group compared with the low-fitness group. We know from prior studies that individuals can improve fitness by participating in regular physical activity. Numerous studies provide strong evidence that physical activity and fitness protect against numerous health problems. It is unlikely that there will ever be a pill that provides the multiple benefits of regular physical activity.