Working the Body and the Mind Together

Gentle exercise like tai chi and dancing can improve both physical and mental health.

Gentle exercise is a great way to keeping moving, and its benefits go beyond the physical.

Mind-body workouts can help improve strength, posture, balance and flexibility, and they may also contribute to a sense of well-being, says Paige E. Denison, director of EnhanceFitness at Project Enhance Senior Services in Seattle, WA. “While not all exercise is good for a particular individual, the proper amount, intensity and type of physical activity can be life-changing.”

Try the following mind-body exercises that may help keep you sharp in both body and mind.

TAI CHI

Often called “moving meditation,” tai chi is a gentle form of exercise that uses flowing motions accompanied by deep breathing. According to a 2016 study in Systematic Reviews, tai chi was identified as beneficial for hypertension, fall prevention and cognitive function. “People also talk about experiencing a sense of calm and clarity as among the benefits,” says Denison.

YOGA

Practicing yoga for just eight weeks improved both the physical and mental well-being of people with knee osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, according to a 2015 study from Johns Hopkins researchers. Compared with a control group, people who practiced yoga reported a 20 percent improvement in pain, energy levels, mood and the ability to perform activities at home and work. “Yoga and tai chi can be done mindfully or mindlessly,” says Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., director of MD Anderson’s Integrative Medicine Program in Houston, TX. “Yoga in particular can incorporate meditation and controlled breathing techniques, which can help ease stress.”

DANCE

Dancing can also be a gentle exercise. It can improve your balance and make it less likely you’ll suffer a fall, a 2014 University of California Berkeley article found. “Dancing helps you get in physical shape of course,” says Cohen.

Ideally you want to be able to practice the mind-body benefits of each type of exercise, not only during your workout but also “off the mat.” “Try to lead a more mindful life in everything you do,” says Cohen. “Although a specific recommended ‘dose’ of exercise hasn’t been studied, in general the more you do the better the outcome.” Remember, check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

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