The ancient Chinese martial art tai chi appears to have positive psychological effects for both healthy people and patients with chronic disease. According to a Tufts University analysis (.pdf) of 40 past studies on the mind-body exercise, practicing tai chi is associated with "reduced stress, anxiety, depression and mood disturbance, and increased self-esteem."
(Although the researchers didn't look at cognitive function, some believe that tai chi can also help with memory; a Stanford researcher is now studying the potential memory-boosting benefits of the exercise.)
The work, which was led by Chenchen Wang, MD, appears in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It follows a 2004 review study during which Wang and colleagues showed that tai chi may provide physiological and psychosocial benefits and also "appears to be safe and effective in promoting balance control, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness in older patients with chronic conditions."
In both reviews, Wang cautioned it is still difficult to draw "firm conclusions" because of the lack of well-designed studies on tai chi. More high-quality, randomized trials are needed, she and her co-authors said.