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Parkinson’s Disease and Exercise

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer disease.  Unfortunately, the incidence of Parkinson’s disease has not declined, and its impact is seen in all races.  This is due in part to the fact that the population of the world is greater than ever before and increasing. In addition, people are living longer than in previous generations, and the baby boomer generation, one of the largest generations in history, has reached old age.

Risk factors for Parkinson’s disease include:

Age: Risk of Parkinson’s disease increases with age.  The average age of onset for this disease is 55 years and the rate of incidence increases steadily until the age of 90.

Gender: Men have a higher risk for Parkinson’s disease than women.

Family history: Individuals with a family history of Parkinson’s disease are at a higher risk for Parkinson’s disease. Moreover, it is said that those with affected first-degree relatives double their risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Agricultural work: Individuals exposed to pesticides and herbicides have a greater risk of developing Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Drinking well-water and living in rural areas have also been associated with an increased incidence of Parkinson’s disease.

Head Trauma: Head trauma can be a risk factor for Parkinson’s disease as is seen in the case of boxers. One study showed that trauma to the upper cervical region, head, and neck was a risk factor for Parkinson’s disease. However, in some cases it took years for these symptoms to appear.

The exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown.  Regarding the molecular events that lead to the development of this disease, there is still some uncertainty in terms of what causes the neurodegeneration seen in Parkinson’s disease. The current hypothesis is that Parkinson’s disease may result from the interaction between environmental factors and genetic susceptibility.

The primary symptoms for PD are deficiencies in motor performance due to the loss of the dopamine pathways in the brain. Decreased dopamine production in the substantia nigra in the brain causes the 4 primary motor symptoms:

  • Bradykinesia: described as slowness in the execution of movements while performing daily activities.
  • Rigidity or Stiffness: caused by an involuntary increase in tone of the limbs and axial musculature.
  • Resting Tremor: Found primarily in the arms and hands and can be socially bothersome. Resting tremors are less disabling since they often vanish with the initiation of activity (especially in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease).
  • Postural Instability: manifested in a slow speed of walking, shortened stride length, narrowing of base of support, and leaning towards one side.

Exercise should be targeted for the primary motor symptoms with exercise and occupational therapy to improve quality of life. Recommended program components include:

  • Posture, gait, mobility
  • Fall risk reduction
  • Cardiorespiratory health
  • Strength and function
  • Depression and Anxiety
  • Joint health

Exercise prescription for clients with PD includes: (ACSM)

  • An individualized program
  • Cardiorespiratory: use guidelines for healthy adults
  • Muscular Fitness: use guidelines for healthy adults
  • Flexibility: slow, static exercises for all major and minor joints in the body including the upper torso, spine, and neck.
  • Neuromotor Exercises: help with balance, gait, and postural instability. Clinicians use a gait belt or parallel bars to ensure safety depending on the severity of the symptoms.  Include functional exercises to improve ADLs and quality of life.

PD exercise therapy includes intervention with many kinds of exercise modes. Both personal training and group fitness have been successful in helping to manage the disease and reduce the symptoms. There is not strong evidence at this point to show that exercise prevents PD, but it is believed that exercise may play a role.  Exercise is however the mainstay for symptom management and slowing disease development.

Want more on this topic? Register for June’s upcoming webinar:

June M. Chewning BS, MA has been in the fitness industry since 1978 serving as a physical education teacher, group fitness instructor, personal trainer, gym owner, master trainer, adjunct college professor, curriculum formatter and developer, and education consultant. She is the education specialist at Fitness Learning Systems, a continuing education company.

References and Resources:


Neuroplasticity and the Aging Brain

One of the greatest concerns for the aging population is cognitive decline which leads to loss of independence as well as an extreme burden on the caretakers.  Individuals worldwide are fearful of being diagnosed with any of the various cognitive issues: Dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of cognitive debilities.  In 2015 there was an estimated 47 million people living with dementia and this number is expected to triple by 2050.  In 2014, the Alzheimer’s Association reported that they believe there is sufficient evidence to support the link between several modifiable risk factors and a reduced risk for cognitive decline and sufficient evidence to suggest that some modifiable risk factors may be associated with reduced risk of dementia. Specifically, that regular physical activity and management of cardiovascular risk factors (diabetes, obesity, smoking, and hypertension) reduce the risk of cognitive decline and may reduce the risk of dementia. The Association also believes there is sufficiently strong evidence to conclude that a healthy diet and lifelong learning/cognitive training may also reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Positive association between aerobic exercise or CV fitness and executive functions is highly consistent but cannot determine causality.  Aerobic exercise (AE) has shown moderate to medium sized effects on executive function and memory. Resistance Training (RT) has improved executive function and memory. Combined AE and RT has the biggest (potentially synergistic) effect. It has been proposed that the physical and cognitive exercise might interact to induce larger functional benefits.  Larger benefits on cognitive test performance were noted for combined physical and cognitive activity than for each activity alone.  “Claims promoting brain games are frequently exaggerated and at times misleading. … To date, there is little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life (Consensus statement, 2014).

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize and rebuild itself by forming new neural connections. The more neural pathways you have, the more resilient your brain is. Neurogenesis is the process of creating new neurons (brain cells).

Contrary to popular belief, neurogenesis continuously occurs in the adult brain under the right conditions such as with exercise.  Substantial benefits on cognitive test performance were noted for combined physical and cognitive activity than for each activity alone. It was also noted that the physical and cognitive exercise together might interact to induce larger functional benefits.  “We assume, that physical exercise increases the potential for neurogenesis and synaptogenesis while cognitive exercise guides it to induce positive plastic change” (Bamidis, 2014).  To maximize cognitive improvement, combine physical exercise with cognitive challenges in a rich sensorimotor environment that includes social interaction and a heaping dose of fun.

Brain health is becoming extremely important as individuals live longer.  Today there is much more information available on how to train the aging brain.  Three great resources are:

Dianne McCaughey Ph.D. is an award winning fitness specialist with more than 35 years experience in personal training, group exercise, coaching, and post-rehabilitation. She is a master trainer for multiple companies and practices and teaches optimal wellness emphasizing the mind, body and spirit. She works with special populations and focuses on posture, gait, balance and corrective exercise programs for better function and health.

Cody Sipe, PhD, has an extensive background in the fitness industry with 20 years of experience as a personal trainer, fitness instructor, program director, exercise physiologist and club owner. He is currently an Associate Professor and Director of Clinical Research in the physical therapy program at Harding University. He is the co-founder and vice president of the Functional Aging Institute (FAI).


senior man having a massage in a spa center

Massage for Parkinson’s

The incidence of Parkinson’s disease in the United States is estimated at 1 million, with an additional 50,000 patients being diagnosed every year.

The most common signs of Parkinson’s disease are tremors, muscle rigidity, akinesia (temporary inability to move), dyskinesia (inability to execute specific voluntary movements at will) and loss of postural reflexes. The back posture becomes stooped, and the walk gradually turns to a shuffle as the arms stop swinging.

Can Massage Help?

senior man having a massage in a spa centerAccording to a 2002 study conducted by the Touch Research Institute:

Massage therapy can improve many PD symptoms and function, from the reduction of rigidity and improvement of sleep, to the reduction of tremor and increase of daily activity stamina symptoms.

The underlying reduction in the neurotransmitter, dopamine, is the cause of many of the PD symptoms. Massage has been shown to have positive effect on the release of neurotransmitters, enhancing their calming influence.

Other Benefits of massage are:

  • Improved Sleep and digestion
  • Reduced Stress, Depression and Moodiness
  • Relief for Cramping and Rigidity
  • Less Fatigue and Anxiety
  • Reduced Perception of Pain


  • Give a full medical history, including other injuries and conditions besides Parkinson’s
  • Use Caution in areas with loss of sensation, light touch is best.
  • Be Careful getting on and off the massage table, balance issues may cause risk of falling.

What to Expect

Your therapist should take a complete health history, including a thorough list of treatments and side effects such as neuropathy, rigidity and skin problems.

But your therapist should also ask about other conditions or injuries you may have. You and your therapist should agree on goals for the session, and you should have a chance to explain your preferences for pressure, and the massage environment such as temperature, music, lighting, etc.

Disrobing: Massage can be done over your clothing (without oil) if your balance is an issue, and it’s too much trouble to dress and undress. If you decide to disrobe and you are concerned about falling, you can bring an aide with you, or ask your therapist for help.

During the massage, you will always be kept covered, observing your modesty and keeping you warm. Don’t hesitate to request that your therapist, or someone else help you on and off the massage table.

Position and Turning over: Some people have trouble turning over due to rigid or weak muscles. If you feel like a fish out of water lying on your stomach, just ask your therapist to work with you lying on your side instead. In this position your therapist still has good access to massage your back muscles, and you won’t feel helpless or confined.

How to Find a Practitioner

Close-up of a physiotherapist massaging a senior woman's back in the medical officeCheck with your city or state to find out what the basic requirements are for massage therapists.

Get a few names and numbers and start calling. Your interview should include questions about training and experience in general practice, and also experience with clients like you. Ask about office environment and policies.

Choose a practitioner that has extra training and experience working with cancer patients. A more complicated health history indicates that the therapist’s expertise is more important. Also, in some cases it is best to get your doctor’s approval.

Most of all, massage should never hurt, and if it does, you should say something. A conscientious massage therapist will constantly seek your feedback during the massage to make sure that the treatment is within your comfort zone the entire time. If you don’t feel that your feedback or concerns are (or will be) addressed, you’re not in the right place.

The MedFit Network can help you find a reliable, educated massage practitioner in your area. In the right hands, you are sure to relax and find comfort through skilled touch. Search Now.

Kathy Flippin’s passion is to offer excellent therapeutic massage, and educate her clients on how they can take the best care possible of themselves. Kathy is the owner of Dynamic Touch Massage and has been a Sports Massage Therapist since 1997. Her clients include everyone from professional athletes to active grandmothers.

Trainer helping senior woman exercising with a bosu balance

Five Tips for Training Clients with Parkinson’s and/or Multiple Sclerosis

When training clients with a neuromuscular disease such as Parkinson’s and/or Multiple Sclerosis there are many challenges.  The challenges can range from physical to emotional setbacks.  It is important to focus on the physical as well as mental capacity.  There are certain patterns associated with exercises that provide balance, core, flexibility, facial, and hand motor training, that keep the mind focused.  Below are five tips when working with clients who have Parkinson’s and/or Multiple Sclerosis.

Balance Training

Balance is one of the first things to decrease as we get older, but much quicker with those with Parkinson’s and/or Multiple Sclerosis.  One common injury is falling so it is important to focus on balance.  Start with simple single exercises to work on balance.  Even standing with just the eyes closed can provide a challenge.  Also try unstable surfaces like a balance board or Airex-pad to challenge balance.

Core Training

Incorporating core exercises will help your clients with the balancing and movement exercises.  If the client can stabilize core muscles during the balance exercises it will help them to be more aware of posture and overall strength.  Plank exercises are great for utilizing the core.  Also a seated ball lift one leg while maintaining posture helps with posture when sitting.

Flexibility Training

Flexibility or range of Motion exercises combine Balance and Core Training to help improve flexibility and coordination.  There are two types of flexibility training, Static and Dynamic.  Static stretching is holding a specific stretch for 45-60 seconds.  This is great after working out to prevent injury and improve range of motion.  Dynamic flexibility is more movement based.  Exercises such as reverse lunges help improve flexibility while moving, while challenging balance and the core.

Facial Exercises

Particularly with Parkinson’s clients, they will get a look to their face that looks like there is no expression.  To keep these muscles in the face active doing simple jaw, mouth, eyebrow, and cheek movements will help keep facial muscle active.


Writing is important keep the mind and emotional part of having Parkinson’s and/or Multiple Sclerosis active.  Motor skills in the hand will decrease as well as focus and concentration.  So things like cross word puzzles and word finds are great for incorporation of mind and body.

In summary, it is critical to use all of these tips for Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis training in progression.  Each client is different, so challenge them to their fitness level.  Progress or digress exercises accordingly.  Take into account the psychological well-being of your client when progressing them in their workout regimen.

Jason Williams has been a personal trainer, pilates instructor, and wellness coach for 13 years and is a graduate from Lynchburg College in Virginia with a Bachelor of Science degree in Sports Medicine.  While at Lynchburg College he was a 1st team All-Conference Track and Field Athlete.  Jason has worked with a wide variety of clientele from kids, professional athletes, seniors and special populations.  He recently wrote a children’s health and fitness book, The Adventures of Frankie Fitness, which motivates kids and adults to live a healthy lifestyle.  He currently works at The Maryland Athletic Club in Baltimore, Maryland. Find Jason at Charm City PT.


How Boxing Can Help You Be a Parkinson’s Fighter

Media coverage on the power of boxing to combat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease has been a hot topic in the Parkinson’s community. Rock Steady Boxing, a national program that initiated Parkinson’s specific, non-contact boxing programs with certified coaches, has inspired local boxing gyms in our area to begin offering boxing training to our local community. So, is boxing your way to better health an option for you? More importantly, what are the benefits of this fun and energizing fitness trend?

Learning how to box and executing the six common punches – jab, straight right, left hook, right hook, left uppercut and right uppercut – is a powerful way to develop your skill-related fitness. Skill-related fitness includes agility, balance, power, speed, coordination and reaction time. All these components are of particular importance to someone with Parkinson’s who may be experiencing a decline in several of these areas. Shadow boxing (punching the hands of a trainer in front of you in a sequence) helps improve speed, coordination and reaction time. Taking lateral steps around a boxing ring helps reinforce balance and agility. Putting your body into a split stance to throw your punches helps to strengthen your lower body and make you more stable.

Another excellent advantage to boxing is it enhances your cognitive fitness. Many people with Parkinson’s experience some challenges with clarity of thought, memory, and ability to do certain tasks. Learning boxing punches in sequence and repeating them helps to create new neural pathways which help to strengthen your brain and your functionality. Being exposed to and learning this new activity also helps improve your cognitive abilities.

What may be the most important reason to take up boxing is the feeling of strength and empowerment you will feel as you literally “fight” this disease. Punching a boxing bag can help relieve stress, make you feel in control, and give you an incredibly productive outlet. Boxing is fun, it’s invigorating, and it’s energizing.

In order to participate safely, be sure to get your physician’s clearance before beginning a boxing or exercise program, and always adhere to the safety precautions outlined by your instructor.

Carisa Campanella, BA, AS, is an ACE Health Coach and ACSM Personal Trainer. She is the Program Manager at the Neuro Challenge Foundation for Parkinson’s. Neuro Challenge provides ongoing monthly support groups and educational programs, individualized care advising and community resource referrals to help empower people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers.

Trainer helping senior woman exercising with a bosu balance

Strategies to Improve Your Balance and Stability

Challenges with balance and stability can happen to all of us as we get older, but is certainly more prevalent in our Parkinson’s community. Maintaining lower body strength in conjunction with balance is very important as it decreases one’s chances of falling. Balance is defines as the state of having your weight spread equally so you do not fall; stability is the quality or state of something that is not easily moved. In order to maintain balance and stability, we need to have our center of gravity over a strong base of support. If your center of gravity standing upright is the area of your belly button – then your feet are your base of support. Standing with both feet on the ground spread just past shoulder width offers a stronger base of support than standing on one leg or with your feet very close together.

There are many issues that can affect your ability to balance yourself while standing or walking. Trouble with vision, lack of lower body strength, poor posture, medications, low blood pressure, and inability to properly lift our feet are all contributors. So how can you better prepare yourself to stay strong on your feet?

Slow Rise: When standing up from a chair or rising out of bed – do so slowly and wait about 5 seconds before you begin to walk. This enables your body to adjust to the change of position.

Hands Free: Keep at least one hand free at all times while walking – carrying an object with both hands can interfere with your ability to balance.

Arm Swing: Attempt to swing both arms from front to back while walking – this also helps maintain an upright posture and reduces fatigue.

Walk Consciously: Always strive to consciously lift your feet off the ground while walking; a shuffling gait can cause one to trip.

Make a U-Turn: When trying to navigate a turn while walking, use a “U” technique of facing forward and making a wide turn as opposed to pivoting sharply.

Helping Aides: Don’t be intimidated by canes, walking sticks, walkers or grab bars. These helpful devices can keep you safe and prevent a fall.

Keep it Simple: Only do one thing at a time when you are on your feet. Using a phone, gazing around, or even drinking a beverage can be a distraction and affect your balance.

In addition to taking these steps to maintain your balance and stability – take precautions in your home to make it safe. Loose throw rugs, scurrying pets, wet bathtubs and slippery staircases can cause danger in your home and throw even the most strong and stable person off balance. Also, working with a fitness professional to strengthen your stomach and leg muscles will help keep you more stable and lessen your likelihood of falling if you were to lose your balance. A strong body is a more stable body!

Carisa Campanella, BA, AS, is an ACE Health Coach and ACSM Personal Trainer. She is the Program Manager at the Neuro Challenge Foundation for Parkinson’s. Neuro Challenge provides ongoing monthly support groups and educational programs, individualized care advising and community resource referrals to help empower people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers.

Senior Man On Cross Trainer In Gym

Where to Begin When You Are Working Out With a Health Condition

The gym can be a confusing place especially for individuals with health concerns. Many times, these clients are trying to navigate their workouts by themselves because they are unsure of the appropriate questions that they need to ask.

First of all, there are two different types of trainers. There are trainers who have a four year degree and certifications. These trainers are sometimes called Fitness Specialists and have had many hours of study related to a wide variety of diseases and injuries. They are used to modifying exercises and programs based on any specific condition you may have. Fitness Specialists are usually found in a medically based fitness facility affiliated with a hospital. Please note that some Fitness Specialist’s will specialize in a certain area. Some work with individuals with diseases and disabilities and some don’t.

Personal Trainer, Gym, Pull Down Machine, Exercising, AssistanceWhen you finally narrow down who you might like to hire you will want to ask some questions. Please don’t be afraid to ask these questions as they will help you to decide which trainer is right for you. It is also recommended that you observe Fitness Specialists training clients.

First you want to make sure that the trainer has had experience with your condition. If not, they should be willing to research it and or speak with your doctor with your permission. There are exercise guidelines that all Fitness Specialists should follow when working with clients who have health conditions.

You will also want to ask about the trainers background. It is alright to ask about education, certifications, and years of experience. You also want to hire someone who is patient with you. This is extremely important as you figure out which exercises work best for your body. I would also like to add that you need to be patient with yourself as well. Try to relax and enjoy your training session.

Asking the questions from above help to keep you feeling confident. Exercise can seem frustrating in the beginning but you have to keep a positive mindset. In the beginning, set small goals and do the best you can during each training session.

Robyn Caruso is the Founder of The Stress Management Institute for Health and Fitness Professionals. She has 15 years of experience in medical based fitness.


The Benefits of Adding Tai Chi to Your Exercise Regimen

Tai Chi is better than a glass of wine!”

The above quote is an actual proclamation from one of my students at the end of class one night. Let’s take some time to look through all the things that you can expect from learning this relaxing, slow martial art.

Because Tai Chi offers a slow, meditative approach to movement, some people question it as an exercise modality since the aerobic component is not high. You should not dismiss it, however, simply because you might not break a sweat doing it! The intensity of this form of exercise can be increased or decreased depending on the depth of the postures and the duration of practice.  It is certainly a low-impact form of exercise which is beneficial to people with existing joint issues and to people who want to avoid joint issues.

Let’s take a look at both the scientifically proven benefits and the anecdotal benefits that occur with the regular practice of Tai Chi.

Physical benefits

As you would expect, there are many physical benefits when one practices any form of exercise over a period of time.  The benefits that research has proven with the regular practice of Tai Chi are surprisingly far-reaching, especially in our current climate of anti-aging remedies.  The Mayo Clinic lists some of the benefits of Tai Chi as:

  • Improved aerobic capacity
  • Increased energy and stamina
  • Improved flexibility, balance and agility
  • Improved muscle strength and definition
  • Enhanced quality of sleep
  • Enhanced functioning of the immune system
  • Reduction in blood pressure
  • Reduction in joint pain
  • Improved symptoms of congestive heart failure
  • Reduction in the risk of falls in older adults

That list is impressive just by itself!  There are other studies that have proven improvement for those who live with chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, osteoarthritis, COPD and others.  It has also been proven to improve bone mineral density in elderly women. One study (Tai Chi Chuan: an ancient wisdom on exercise and health promotion) even stated that, “The long-term practice of Tai Chi Chuan can attenuate the age decline in physical function . . . .”  It’s no secret that we are living longer now due in part to medical advances.  It can be argued that we are not necessarily living better, however.  The practice of Tai Chi can possibly be one of the ways we are able to increase the enjoyment of our later years because of the improvements it provides in physical function.

One of the biggest concerns of aging is falling.  Obviously, the physical detriment of broken bones or concussions or even just severe bruising are difficult for the aging population to deal with.  The mental effect of being scared it will happen again is even worse, however.  There are many studies that show a rapid decline in independence after just one fall.  Clearly, working on balance is an important concept to help prevent falls.  In a meta-study, authors Wong and Lan wrote in “Tai Chi and Balance Control” that, “recent studies substantiate that Tai Chi is effective in balance function enhancement and falls prevention.”  They also concluded that, “Tai Chi improves static and dynamic balance, especially in more challenging sensory perturbed condition.”  A different study on the effect of 4-and 8-week intensive Tai Chi training on balance control in the elderly concluded that, “even 4 weeks of intensive Tai Chi training are sufficient to improve balance control.”  Anecdotally, I have witnessed this in the classes I teach.  Many of my students comment on the marked improvement in their balance.  One student in particular related the story of how she and her husband were hiking and she was getting frustrated because she felt unstable going over the rocks.  Then she remembered her Tai Chi training and started to incorporate some of the principles of columns and weight shift, and she immediately felt more balanced and in control on their hike!

One of the other anecdotal effects that I have seen in my classes is weight loss with Tai Chi.  It is not something that people express as a goal when they start Tai Chi, however, I have had several students who have admitted that beneficial weight loss has been a side effect of their training.

Mental benefits 

The benefits of Tai Chi are not only substantiated as physical benefits.  There are important mental and emotional benefits as well.  Let’s return to the list of benefits from the Mayo Clinic. They also list the following as resulting from practicing Tai Chi:

  • Decreased stress, anxiety and depression
  • Improved mood
  • Improved overall well-being

And I would add the following to that list:

  • Increased mental focus
  • Improvement in working memory/executive function
  • Social enjoyment and interaction

The studies concerned with the effect of Tai Chi on psychological well-being are not as conclusive as the studies on the physical benefits due in part to the obvious reliance on subjective measures.  In general, however, the studies do demonstrate beneficial effects in regard to practicing Tai Chi for depression, anxiety, stress management and mood disturbance.  One study on the therapeutic benefits of Tai Chi exercise (Kuramoto AM) states that, “Tai Chi can influence older individuals’ functioning and well being . . . and the positive effects of Tai Chi may be due solely to its relaxing, meditative aspects.”   Just the other day, I had a student comment to me after class that, “It always seems that whatever I’m dealing with on a particular day just eases back into the proper perspective when I’m done with Tai Chi.  It obviously doesn’t make the problem go away, but it feels like I can approach it with a better mindset and a healthier attitude.”  That’s really the beauty of Tai Chi.  It’s not some mystical, magical force or religion.  In one study that measured heart rate, adrenaline, cortisol and mood during Tai Chi (Jin P), “Relative to baseline levels, subjects reported less tension, depression, anger, fatigue confusion and state-anxiety. They felt more vigorous and in general, they had less total mood disturbance.”  In another meta-analysis regarding Tai Chi exercise and the improvement of health and well-being in older adults (Yau MK), “There is considerable evidence that Tai Chi has positive health benefits; physical, psychosocial and therapeutic.  Furthermore, Tai Chi does not only consist of a physical component, but also sociocultural, meditative components that are believed to contribute to overall well-being.” This same study concluded that, “It is recommended as a strategy to promote successful aging.”  That’s quite an endorsement!  You might say that Tai Chi comes close to being a fountain of youth for those that practice it!

In my own experience, I have seen the improvement in mental focus and working memory.  If you are not “in the moment” and really thinking about your movements and how to apply the principles of Tai Chi . . . you will get lost!  You can’t think about what’s for dinner that night, or the fight that you had with your spouse the night before.  You must focus your mind on the task at hand and that actually causes a relaxation and meditative effect.  Because many of the movements force you to cross the midline, you are also forcing your brain to function in a different pattern by making the left side talk with right side.  Jean Blaydes Madigan, a neurokinesiologist states that, “Crossing the midline integrates brain hemispheres to enable the brain to organize itself. When students perform cross-lateral activities, blood flow is increased in all parts of the brain, making it more alert and energized for stronger, more cohesive learning. Movements that cross the midline unify the cognitive and motor regions of the brain.”  Wow!  You are actually making your brain function better on all levels with the simple practice of Tai Chi!

In two different meta-studies concerned with the cognitive performance in healthy adults (Zheng, G, et. al and Wayne PM, et.al), they both concluded that “Tai Chi shows potential protective effects on healthy adults’ cognitive ability.  Tai Chi shows potential to enhance cognitive function in older adults, particularly in the realm of executive functioning.”  Executive function is defined on WebMD as “ a set of mental stills that help you get things done.”  Who doesn’t need to get more things done in their life??  And unfortunately, if we don’t work at it, executive function declines as we age.

The last point I want to mention about the benefits of practicing Tai Chi is the most subtle, but certainly a very important point, especially as we age.  I see a community develop in my classes that is so strong, it supports each member and provides a social interaction that is rare in our society. Many studies have shown that for successful aging, people need to be involved and to interact with each other.  My students come to class to enjoy the benefits of Tai Chi . . . but they also come to class to enjoy the social interaction and support from their classmates.  This kind of support and interaction can happen in any number of different venues, of course.  I think the combination of the relaxing atmosphere, a non-intimidating, simple to move kind of exercise and the joint experience of learning something new that has a calming influence on your mood is un-paralleled in the exercise world.  Tai Chi brings together your physical well-being with your mental and social well-being in a unique experience that can be practiced for years. Better than a glass of wine, indeed!

Dianne Bailey has been providing professional weight management and sports conditioning training for individuals since 2002 and opened The Conditioning Classroom, a private personal training studio, in 2006. She earned the prestigious designation of Certified Sports Conditioning Specialist from the National Sports Conditioning Association in 2007. In addition, Dianne is a Certified Tai Chi Instructor (level 1) through the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association and leads the Tai Chi program here at the studio.