Just 12 weeks of classes in the ancient Chinese martial art could help combat symptoms of the blues
Taking part in Tai Chi could help to combat depression, new research claims.
Going to classes in the ancient Chinese martial art for 12 weeks significantly reduced symptoms of the blues.
It can work independently of treatment, suggesting it can scupper the need for an antidepressant prescription, the small study shows.
The findings hold promise amid soaring rates of depression worldwide, with drugs and therapy often proving ineffective.
The meditative practice, which has been used for more than 1,000 years, combines deep breathing and slow and gentle movements.
Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital enrolled 50 Chinese-American participants for the study.
All of the volunteers had mild to moderate depression and were not receiving any other forms of treatment at the time.
They were placed at random in three groups. The first took part in Tai Chi, a second received educational therapy and the third was a control group.
Those given Tai Chi were taught basic traditional movements and asked to practice three times a week.
All 17 volunteers in the martial art reported significantly greater improvement in depression symptoms than the other two groups.
Follow up assessment after six months showed sustained improvement, the report published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry states.
Lead author Professor Albert Yeung said if the findings are confirmed in other trials, it could be used as a primary treatment.
While he said that the results of the study were important due to many adults of Chinese American ethnicity deciding not to seek help with depression.
Professor Yeung added: 'Finding Tai Chi can be effective is particularly significant because it is culturally accepted by this group of patients who tend to avoid conventional psychiatric treatment.'
Previous research has shown Tai Chi makes the brain bigger and improves memory and thinking - possibly delaying the onset of dementia.
The devastating neurological condition is associated with increasing shrinkage of the brain, as nerve cells and their connections are gradually lost.
Tai Chi has also been linked with reducing high blood pressure and relieving symptoms of cancer, heart failure, osteoarthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).