Good nutrition and supplementation are a vital part of creating a foundation for optimal health. But there are other practices that can also help your body fight the effects of stress and add life to your years. A plethora of research is now showing that participating in regular practices like yoga, meditation and tai chi can help ease the aging process by boosting heart health, strengthening your body, reducing inflammation and more.
This ancient practice mixes physical movement with meditation and martial arts. Different forms of tai chi have been practiced for hundreds of years in China as a form of fighting, and more recently the exercise has expanded throughout the world. (Find out more about the origins and benefits of tai chi from the Mayo Clinic.)
The good news is that it's a low-impact exercise, meaning people of all ages can participate by adjusting the intensity of their practice. Here are a few recent studies that show how tai chi can address a variety of health issues:
Tai chi for older people reduces falls, may help maintain strength
Two different studies showed that older adults showed a marked improvement in balance, strength and agility after learning tai chi.
Tai chi can reduce pain and increase physical functioning in arthritis patients
A study from Tufts University on patients with severe knee arthritis showed that an hour of tai chi, twice a week for 12 weeks, reduced pain and increased physical function more than standard stretching.
Find a local tai chi class or club by contacting your local YMCA or community center. And, if you or someone you know lives in the Boston area, Harvard University is currently recruiting adults ages 50-79 to participate in a six-month study on the effects of tai chi on overall health.
Discover what yogis around the world know about this practice-it can relieve stress, strengthen your muscles and increase your flexibility, a recipe for aging well. According to the American Yoga Association, it's been around for more than 5,000 years, and there are now more than 100 different types of yoga. Literally meaning "to join or yoke together," yoga brings together the mind and body in one holistic practice (learn more about the history of yoga).
The yoga practice can also be adjusted for students of all ages and capabilities, and has been shown to dramatically improve health and longevity. Whether you practice every day or just a few times a week, yoga can be a vital way to reconnect your mind and body. Here's some recent research on the health benefits of yoga:
Yoga reduces inflammation and the effects of stress in women
An Ohio State University study showed that women who had been regularly practicing yoga at least twice a week for two years were much better at recovering from stress and had lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation.
Yoga helps chronic back pain
A brand-new study, organized in part by the National Center for Complementary Medicine, showed that people with chronic low back pain who took 12 weekly classes saw "clinically important improvements in their back-related dysfunction," which lasted well past the end of the study.
Read more about specific yoga poses that can alleviate symptoms of menopause from Yoga Journal, check out Gaiam Life's guide to simple anti-aging yoga poses, or shop yoga products from Gaiam Life.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Meditation
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an emerging practice that draws from the tenets of meditation and yoga, and involves a focus on breathing and awareness of your present surroundings. (Dr. Bradly Jacobs, the chair of our Integrative Health Advisory Board, recommends learning more about MBSR here.)
By increasing our awareness of the connection between body and mind through meditation or MBSR, we can take control of common health issues such as pain, menopausal symptoms and stress. Here are some recent studies on the benefits of mindfulness:
Mindfulness lessens pain
A study done at Wake Forest University showed that participants who were trained in mindfulness through four 20-minute sessions felt pain at a much lower level of intensity and unpleasantness than those who were not trained. Researchers concluded that mindfulness helps the brain restructure itself and take control of sensory experiences.
Mindfulness soothes the discomfort of hot flashes
Scientists at the University of Massachusetts showed that women trained in mindfulness felt less discomfort associated with their hot flashes (and slept better!).
Meditation good for heart health
A 1991 study reviewed the effects of Dhammakaya Buddhist meditation on markers for heart health in men. The meditating men saw significantly reduced cortisol levels and blood pressure, all good for keeping your heart calm and healthy.
Whichever you choose, these practices can be integrated into a good supplement regimen-check out some of our favorite healthy aging supplements