Tai Chi May Lower Stroke Risk (Grannies Rejoice)

In the elderly, three months of the ancient practice led to improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol

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Feb 23, 2017 at 12:02 PM ET

The grannies practicing Tai Chi that you spot on your morning commute may have stumbled across a way to fight off stroke, a new study suggests.

Chinese researchers recruited more than 200 senior volunteers who were at risk of having a stroke to take part in a 3-month-long randomized trial. Divided into three groups, they either practiced Tai Chi for a hour twice a week and for 30 minutes every other day; took 30-minute brisk walks every day, or just stuck to their normal routine. By trial’s end, the researchers found, those who took Tai Chi experienced noticeably greater decreases in their blood pressure and levels of HDL cholesterol (the bad kind) compared to the control group. On average, their blood pressure dropped 7 to 10 points lower, depending on the type of pressure measured.

While the findings are preliminary, not having been published in a peer-reviewed journal yet, they’re only the latest to indicate the low-stress exercise can be a reasonable way to keep yourself healthy, especially if you’re older.

Tai Chi is a long-practiced marital art in China, centered around self-defense. In recent decades, practitioners have brought it overseas and advertised it as a tool to keep your mental and physical health in tip-top shape.

But though research into Tai Chi’s promoted benefits had been lagging in the past, more recent studies have shown its usefulness. In 2015, a review in The BMJ found regular Tai Chi could help elderly people with chronic diseases like cancer, heart failure and osteoarthritis stay physically fit. And another study in 2016 found it could help alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress in war veterans.

Whether these health benefits last more than a few months though, the researchers of the current study wrote in their abstract, is something that will have to be explored with longer-run studies.

The team’s results are set to be presented this week at the American Stroke Association’s annual International Stroke Conference.