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May 28, 2014 12:19 PM EDT

Tai Chi May Slow Aging Process

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A traditional Chinese martial art and sport may be able to slow down the aging process, according to a recent study.

Researchers found that Tai Chi is beneficial in raising the numbers of a cluster of differentiation 34 expressing (CD34+) cells, a stem cell important to a number of the body's functions and structures.

"To evaluate the potential life-lengthening effect of Tai Chi, we conducted a year-long, retrospective cross-sectional study comparing the rejuvenating and anti-aging effects among three groups of volunteers under the age of 25 who engaged in either Tai Chi (TCC), brisk walking (BW), or no exercise habit (NEH)," Dr. Shinn-Zong Lin, the study's corresponding author, said in a statement. "We used young volunteers because they have better cell-renewing abilities than the old population and we also wanted to avoid having chronic diseases and medications as interfering factors."

Based on their findings, researchers said Tai Chi "has been confirmed to benefit" patients with mild to moderate Parkinson's disease and fibromyalgia. In addition, they cite possible advantages of Tai Chi in pain reduction, fall prevention and balance improvement, aerobic capacity, blood pressure, quality of life and stress reduction.

"Compared with the NEH group, the TCC group had a significantly higher number of CD 34+ cells," wrote the authors. "We found that the CD34+ cell count of the TCC group was significantly higher than the BW group."

CD 34+ cells, they explained, express the CD 34 protein and are "cluster markers" for hematopoietic stem cells (blood stem cells) involved in cell self-renewal, differentiation and proliferation.

Lin said Tai Chi may prompt vasodilation and increase blood flow.

"Considering that BW may require a larger space or more equipment, Tai Chi seems to be an easier and more convenient choice of anti-aging exercise."

Researcher Dr. Paul R. Sanberg said the findings provide the first step into providing scientific evidence for the possible health benefits of Tai Chi.

"Further study of how Tai Chi can elicit benefit in different populations and on different parameters of aging are necessary to determine its full impact," Sanberg said.

The findings were recently published in the journal Cell Transplantation.

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