Researchers at UCLA studied 112 adults, age 60 and over, with major depression.  For the first 4 weeks, participants were treated with escitalopram, a standard antidepressant drug.  Showing only partial improvement, 73 of the adults were randomly assigned to 10 weeks of either a tai chi class for two hours per week or to a health-education class.

All participants were evaluated for levels of depression, anxiety, resilience, health-related quality of life, cognition and immune system inflammation at the beginning of the study and again four months later.

Among tai chi participants, 94% scored below 10 on a depression rating scale, 10 being the cut-off for a diagnosis of depression.  65% achieved a score of 6 or less, meaning their depression was in remission.

By comparison, 77% of the control group achieved 10 or less, with 51% in remission.

Researchers believe that the control group may have benefited less because of the social aspects of spending time with others in the tai chi class.

Lead investigator Helen Lavretsky, MD, had this to say about the results of the study:  “Depression can lead to serious consequences, including greater morbidity, disability, mortality and increased cost of care.

“This study shows that adding a mind-body exercise like tai chi that is widely available in the community can improve the outcomes of treating depression in older adults. . . .  With tai chi, we may be able to treat these conditions without exposing them to additional medications.”

University Health & Nutrition Letter, May 6, 2013    NY Times, March 18, 2011   Study published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, March 2011

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