It’s not just for fighting: new research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that people in their 40′s and 50′s who regularly practice martial arts demonstrate astounding levels of physical fitness in comparison to people the same age who don’t exercise at all. The study subjects who practiced martial arts had 12% less body fat, were able to do twice as many sit-ups, had enhanced flexibility and leg strength, demonstrated a stronger immune system and showed greatly improved balance.
It’s not surprising, of course: martial arts– even mild forms like Tai Chi– have long been known to confer tremendous anti-aging health benefits to their followers. Throughout Asia, it’s not uncommon to see large groups of elderly (people in their 60′s, 70′s and 80′s) practicing TaiChi at sunrise in the community parks. Despire their age, these people have better aerobic conditioning, balance, strength, flexibility and coordination than many typical Americans in their 30′s who are already suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity and cancer. People who practice Tai Chi simply don’t experience those diseases with anywhere near the frequency. As a result, they live longer, healthier, happier lives.
Any form of martial arts or physical discipline will produce similar results, by the way: Tai Chi and Pilates are two of my favorites, but you could also take up dancing or gymnastics, too. More aggressive forms of martial arts such as kickboxing and Tai Kwon Do are also excellent for conditioning, although they are typically more focused on combat than is really necessary. (To be healthy, you don’t have to train for combat. You just have to move your body.)