Complementary use of mindful exercise, such as Tai Chi and yogic meditation (Kirtan Kriya), can improve clinical outcomes of mood disorders in older adults—as demonstrated in brain scans, biomarkers of cellular aging, and mental health rating scales.
This according to Helen Lavretsky, MD, MS, an expert in geriatric psychiatry and holistic medicine, who spoke on this topic at the recent the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting.
“Mind-body exercise, which includes yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi, is used to improve psychological well-being, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, balance, pain, insulin resistance, depression, and anxiety,” she said.
Acknowledging that colleagues and others often ask her to differentiate between aerobic and mind-body exercise as regards individual responses, Lavretsky described an observational study she and others conducted at a local YMCA that clarified the distinctions.1
The study involved 42 participants (mean age, 64.6 years; SD = 13.6 years).
Twenty routinely participated in a yoga or Tai Chi class and 22 routinely participated in an aerobic exercise class for at least 60 minutes per week. Questionnaires profiling participants’ mood states, general health functioning, sleep, and pain levels were reviewed.
In general, Lavretsky said, participants in yoga or Tai Chi classes had significantly greater levels of vitality and lower levels of tension, depression, anger, confusion, and fatigue, as determined from their mental health component scores. Furthermore, they had significantly higher mental health composite summary scores on the 12-Item Short Form Health Survey and fewer sleep problems than did those in the aerobic exercise group.
Despite gains in the treatment of major depression in recent decades, Lavretsky said that “only about 30% of older depressed patients achieve remission with the first-line antidepressant pharmacotherapy.”
“Therefore, nonpharmacological interventions—such as mind-body interventions—can improve a partial response to antidepressants via stress reduction, improved physical functioning, increased socialization, and reduced risks of polypharmacy.” She noted that her average depressed older patient takes between 10 and 15 drugs.
Lavretsky described one of the first randomized controlled trials to test the efficacy of complementary use of Tai Chi Chih (TCC), an abbreviated form of Tai Chi that involves 20 movements, versus health education (HE), an active control intervention, as an adjunct to standard antidepressant treatment of geriatric depression.2
Figures 1 and 2 are reproduced from Aging Health, October 20125 with permission of Future Medicine Ltd.
1. Siddarth D, Siddarth P, Lavretsky H. An observational study of the health benefits of yoga or Tai Chi compared with aerobic exercise in community-dwelling middle-aged and older adults. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2013 May 1; [Epub ahead of print].
2. Lavretsky H, Alstein LL, Olmstead RE, et al. Complementary use of tai chi chih augments escitalopram treatment of geriatric depression: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2011;19:839-850.
3. Lavretsky H, Epel ES, Siddarth P, et al. A pilot study of yogic meditation for family dementia caregivers with depressive symptoms: effects on mental health, cognition, and telomerase activity. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2013;28:57-65.
4. Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation. Practice the 12-minute yoga medication exercise. https://www.alzheimersprevention.org/research/12-minute-memory-exercise. Accessed August 12, 2013.
5. Pomykala KL, Silverman DH, Geist GL, et al. A pilot study of the effects of meditation on regional brain metabolism in distressed dementia caregivers. Aging Health. 2012;8:509-516.
6. Black DS, Cole SW, Irwin MR, et al. Yogic meditation reverses NF-κB and IRF-related transcriptome dynamics in leukocytes of family dementia caregivers in a randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013;38:348-355.