Experts say that more than 30 percent of adults 65 and over suffer from depression; however, whatever the cause, depression isn‘t normal at any age. You can and should seek treatment. But when you're over 65, this is a lot tougher than it sounds. In fact, more often that not, traditional drug treatments don't work with depressed seniors. But certain Chinese exercise called tia chi helps fight depression.

Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a UCLA professor of psychiatry, agrees. She says, "We know that nearly two-thirds of elderly patients who seek treatment for their depression fail to achieve relief with a prescribed medication."

That's why Dr. Lavretsky encourages her patients to learn a 2,000 year-old form of martial arts.

Tai chi fights depression; helps body and mind

The Chinese have practiced tai chi (pronounced tie-chee) for thousands of years. It‘s a low-impact form of exercise where one position flows into the next.

When you think of tai chi, you probably think it‘s a stress reliever. And you‘re right. Some people call it meditation in motion. It can have a profound effect on your mind. Plus, it‘s ideal for seniors because it:

  • lowers your heart rate
  • improves balance & coordination
  • helps to relieve chronic pain
  • reduces blood pressures
  • improves sleep & sense of well being
  • builds muscle strength

But can tai chi fight depression?

You betcha!

In fact, Dr. Lavrestsky recently sent 73 of her toughest depression cases to tai chi classes and got some amazing results.

UCLA study underscores limits of drugs, benefits of tai chi

For this study, Dr. Lavretsky wanted to examine if tia chi fights depression, so she recruited 112 seniors with depression. She treated each of them with the drug Lexapro (escitalopram) for about four weeks. Lexapro is an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) commonly used to treat depression and anxiety.

Seventy-three of the patients showed partial improvement in their symptoms. The other 39 showed no improvement whatsoever.

You see, depression can be very tricky to treat. And very often, the first drug you try doesn't get rid of all your symptoms. That's why some folks resort to a drug like Abilify. Big Pharma markets this drug as an "add on" depression drug. They give it to folks who don‘t get results using traditional SSRIs.

Thankfully, Dr. Lavretsky didn‘t take this route. Instead, she sent half the patients to tai chi classes for 10 weeks. The other half went to health education classes. (Sounds riveting, doesn‘t it?)

This routine went on for 10 weeks.

At the end of 10 weeks, Dr. Lavretsky evaluated each of the patients based on their levels of:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Resilience
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Cognition
  • Immune system inflammation

She also evaluated their depression. She used the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, a questionnaire that gauges severity of your symptoms. If you score 10/11, you are clinically depressed.

Here‘s what the researchers found...

Seniors achieve remission with tai chi

After taking tai chi, 94 of the seniors scored less than 10 on the Hamilton scale. In addition, 65 percent of them scored six or less. Clinicians consider this a remission of their depression!

Now, to be perfectly honest, the men and women who took health education classes got a boost as well. About ¾ of them scored less than 10 on the Hamilton scale. In addition, about half of them achieved remission.

I have to admit, these numbers are pretty darn good too. Although, not nearly as good as the tai chi numbers. Plus, I doubt a health education class confers all the same other benefits as tai chi. And lastly, taking a "health education class" just sounds downright grim, if you ask me. It‘s just about the last thing I‘d be apt to take if I were depressed.

Dr. Lavretsky appears to feel the same way.

She said "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, who may also have other, co-existing medical conditions, or cognitive impairment. With tai chi we may be able to treat these conditions without exposing them to additional medications."

Wow, a doctor who doesn't want to put her patients on more medications?  Who is prescribing tia chi to fight depression? What a novel idea. In any case, if you‘re over 60 and suffer from depression, think about taking tai chi. It may help you get back to feeling like your old self again!

P.S. Natural supplements can do a lot to help with mild to moderate depression.For ideas about what to try, reread my Guide to Good Health from last summer called "Seniors find safe answers against depression with superstar vitamin."