Dr Chenchen Wang, of Tufts University's New England Medical Centre in Boston, analysed almost 50 clinical studies on tai chi. The results revealed that the almost meditative state of calmness it produces reduced anxiety and stress, and also lowered blood pressure. Two years ago, Dr Michael Irwin, a clinical psychobiologist at the University of California, showed that tai chi boosts the immune system, helping to raise protection against common viruses by 50 per cent.
Walking to ease depression
Researchers at Duke University in the US found three brisk 30-minute walks each week had greater effects on reducing depression than drugs from the same family as Prozac. Six months after 156 subjects had completed the 16-week study, only 8 per cent saw their depression return. A separate study at the University of Texas showed that a half-hour walk gave an instant lift for the moderately depressed, providing the same sort of mental pick-me-up they might normally get from cigarettes, coffee or binge-eating, said the study, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise.
Swimming for PMS
According to a recent survey by Leisure Connection health clubs in Britain, most women find the hormonal flux of their menstrual cycle causes them to skip or compromise workouts. Sam Howells, sports scientist for the group, says it needn't be so.
"The menstrual cycle is inextricably linked to mental and physical performance," Howells says. "All women who exercise should listen to their bodies." During the follicular stage (days one to 13 of the cycle) oestrogen levels are low so the body finds it easier to perform high-tempo exercise, she says. In the luteal phase (days 14-28), when menstruation begins, try lower-intensity workouts, such as longer swims, to lessen symptoms of PMS.
Many physiotherapists recommend pilates for its ability to increase flexibility and core stability. Back pain is often caused when your body is pulled out of alignment; pilates helps to pull it back by strengthening the core muscles around your lower back and stomach.
Tomas Brofeldt, a doctor of emergency medicine at the University of California's Davis Medical Centre, believes headaches can be treated using yoga.
He says 75 per cent of all headaches arise from muscle tension in the back of the neck caused by problems in posture. In people who have rounded shoulders, a strong curve in the upper back and a tendency to hold the head forward, the "headache muscles" are held in a chronically foreshortened state.
Anyone who suffers frequently from headaches should practise regular yoga to "retrain the upper back to extend, the chest to open, the shoulders to roll back and down, and the head to rest on the midline", he says.
New research shows that regular running protects vulnerable joints from damage and pain. A team from Stanford University found that adults who run consistently can expect to have 25 per cent less musculoskeletal pain and less arthritis than non-runners when they get older.
"The key word is consistency," says Sammy Margo, a sports physiotherapist for the Britain's Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. "If you run consistently, your joints, tendons, ligaments, discs and muscles get used to the habitual pounding. The body accommodates the demands so running doesn't necessarily lead to pain."
Pilates, swimming and aerobics...I'm on my way!