Tai Chi Class

Welcome to WholenessInMotion. Tai chi is a whole body and mind exercise that combines meditation, martial art and health tonic in one. This particular form is the Yang style, 37 posture short form as taught by Prof. Cheng Man-ch'ing. This fascinating and intricate exercise has many benefits and just about anyone can practice it.

Take a look at this site and consider the study of relaxation and how it can benefit you in your daily life. I look forward to working with you. Tom Daly


Archive for March, 2011

Tai Chi Chuan – “Invest in Loss,” really?

Posted By Tom Daly on March 31st, 2011

Tai Chi Chuan – “Invest in Loss,” really?

The question arose recently: Does the adage to “invest in loss” in tai chi push hands have any relationship to a personal loss in real life?

At first I didn’t think so.

From the dictionary:

Invest:  To spend or devote for future advantage or benefit; To devote morally or psychologically, as to a purpose; commit; To endow with authority or power.

Loss:  The condition of being deprived or bereaved of something or someone; The harm or suffering caused by losing or being lost.

In push hands, you volunteer to learn a skill where trying to win – at least initially – will inhibit your progress.  In a very real way, if you are attacked by your partner, you need to accept the attack and NOT fight her off.  You let it happen.  During this process, you may have mind left over to see what is going on, even if you don’t have a good solution.  You will feel more and relax more.  Eventually, perhaps through your own growth, or through the suggestion of your partner, you begin to see the solutions.  One way to get there is simply getting pushed and pushed and pushed.  This can be very frustrating!

Like any loss, it is very confusing.  But it is also very rewarding because by “investing in loss” you will see the situation from a very different perspective.  Otherwise, you are investing in struggle, resistance and strategy.  By removing the desire to win, you open up your ability to see exactly what is really happening in this moment.  It is virtually impossible to see what is happening in this moment if you are always strategizing or resisting what is actually happening NOW.

In real life, you don’t seek out loss in order to learn.  Loss comes hard and sometimes there is no real obvious gain.  The process of loss is just loss.  Redemption is not always on the playing field.  Unlike push hands, loss=gain is not true.  Mostly loss=loss.

But not always.  It is true that if you spend lots of energy on fighting the loss (as in push hands,) you have two problems:  The loss + the pointless struggle of fighting it off.  You’ve added baggage to a difficult situation.  Letting go of that baggage is an important step to learning whatever lesson the loss may give you.

[Please note to those who have not participated in push hands: when you struggle against someone who understands push hands, generally, you lose the game!  Struggle works against you.]

Clearly there are losses in life that create life altering changes in individuals and, to sound corny, they turn lemons into lemonade.  This does happen.  One is forced to do something else because something has been taken away.  To persist in fighting the loss itself may close the door to what could be an alternative, possibly better, way to exist.

For some losses, to look closely at the loss often reveals steps that you did not take but in retrospect could have taken.  You missed the opportunity to act when you needed to or to take necessary steps at the right time.  You may learn something here and grow as a result.

But again, this is not always the case.  I ponder those individuals in the World Trade Towers on September 11th, 2001, an unforeseeable disaster.  Some were hopelessly trapped.  Some had the option to run out of the building as fast as they could. Others decided there was no real danger and stayed where they were, perhaps avoiding panicked crowds going down stairwells in the dark.  They couldn’t have predicted the tragic outcome.

“Invest in loss” has a sense of non-resistance to it.  Giving up struggle, gain, winning.  One side benefit of this is “being.”  And allowing whatever is happening to happen.  There is much to gain by doing this.

But what is “being” in the face of personal loss, grief, injustice perhaps?

Acceptance is one element.  Awareness is another.  Opening new possibilities is yet another.  Allowing yourself the feelings that you need to feel as you experience the loss is one more.  Giving yourself space to “not do” something in order to fully comprehend the situation, to fully be with it.  Giving yourself time to simply exist with the totality of the loss. To embrace who you are – totally – in this moment.  The knowledge that you are MORE than your loss.

While all of that is rarely pleasant, to NOT have that creates more tension and pointless struggle.  To NOT have this binds you in.

It is interesting that in the push hands situation, a situation that you have volunteered to work with, many of the same problems and frustrations come up as if life had handed you some REAL loss.  Experientially, it’s not so different.  Inevitably you hit a wall of sorts and can’t seem to handle the partner in front of you.  The desire to win often creates the very problem that creates frustration and a sense of loss.  I have been so angry and frustrated at times with push hands partners that I have left the game.  Others have felt the same about me.

Some real life losses create severe stress.  While it may be easier to accept loss in push hands, the process of push hands takes time, attention, persistence, acceptance of who you are and your level of skill, and a great deal of  letting go, of not reacting with  your emotions.  By this I don’t mean that you don’t have or recognize emotions.  I mean that you don’t act on them as if they are some sort of trustworthy actionable directive.  “I feel therefore I do” is not the adage.  I hit you because I feel angry?  Sorry no no!  I feel my anger.  I feel like hitting you.  But I don’t.  “I feel therefore I am.”  (For some, if they don’t recognize their own emotional impulses, the action bursts forth as if by its own unrecognized volition.  See Law and Order!)

Does personal loss require any less?

But more to the point, what if the loss had nothing to do with your actions or inactions?  What if you were born with a loss?  Or someone has decided you are inferior because of ignorance, fear, whatever the reason.  Or cholera is in the water and it is the middle ages and no one has heard of cholera?  Life happens despite our best efforts.  It is loaded with losses, small and large.  It is normal.

A book comes to mind, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl.  He presents the concentration camps and the suffering and loss experienced by the Jews.  He was there.  The bottom line for him is that loss tests our humanity.  To weather a severe and real loss with dignity or even generosity is a personal victory worth struggling for.  That is a profound and existential challenge.

No one wishes such harm on anyone, but when faced with ultimate loss, how do you rise to the occasion?

As you lose again and again and again in push-hands, how do you rise to the occasion?

The stakes in push hands are not the same, but the human struggle is similar to real life loss.  You have to face yourself.

“Invest in loss” has answers to dealing with personal loss.  Sometimes the best way to live is to allow the loss to happen (if you have no control over it) and see what comes next.  Equanimity.  Walk through the mud, don’t wallow in it.  Or wallow in it for a while, and then get on with task of living.

By accepting loss, what can you make of loss?  What does life have to offer, despite the loss, or even because of the loss?  To me, this is “invest in loss.”

Posted in Philosophy
Comments Off on Tai Chi Chuan – “Invest in Loss,” really?

Tools for Thinking – New York Times article

Posted By Tom Daly on March 29th, 2011

Perhaps the connection here to tai chi is slim, but I see ideas and words that resonate with a tai chi process.  Words/ideas like context, emergence, “bottom up and top down simultaneously,” letting go of past associations (and solutions) to see what is happening now, and so forth.

This is a profound article of CHANGE!


March 28, 2011

Tools for Thinking


A few months ago, Steven Pinker of Harvard asked a smart question: What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?

The good folks at Edge.org organized a symposium and 164 thinkers contributed suggestions. John McWhorter, a linguist at Columbia University, wrote that people should be more aware of path dependence. This refers to the notion that often “something that seems normal or inevitable today began with a choice that made sense at a particular time in the past, but survived despite the eclipse of the justification for that choice.”

For instance, typewriters used to jam if people typed too fast, so the manufacturers designed a keyboard that would slow typists. We no longer have typewriters, but we are stuck with the letter arrangements of the qwerty keyboard.

Path dependence explains many linguistic patterns and mental categories, McWhorter continues. Many people worry about the way e-mail seems to degrade writing skills. But there is nothing about e-mail that forbids people from using the literary style of 19th-century letter writers. In the 1960s, language became less formal, and now anybody who uses the old manner is regarded as an eccentric.

Evgeny Morozov, the author of “The Net Delusion,” nominated the Einstellung Effect, the idea that we often try to solve problems by using solutions that worked in the past instead of looking at each situation on its own terms. This effect is especially powerful in foreign affairs, where each new conflict is viewed through the prism of Vietnam or Munich or the cold war or Iraq.

Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University writes about the Focusing Illusion, which holds that “nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.” He continues: “Education is an important determinant of income — one of the most important — but it is less important than most people think. If everyone had the same education, the inequality of income would be reduced by less than 10 percent. When you focus on education you neglect the myriad of other factors that determine income. The differences of income among people who have the same education are huge.”

Joshua Greene, a philosopher and neuroscientist at Harvard University, has a brilliant entry on Supervenience. Imagine a picture on a computer screen of a dog sitting in a rowboat. It can be described as a picture of a dog, but at a different level it can be described as an arrangement of pixels and colors. The relationship between the two levels is asymmetric. The same image can be displayed at different sizes with different pixels. The high-level properties (dogness) supervene the low-level properties (pixels).

Supervenience, Greene continues, helps explain things like the relationship between science and the humanities. Humanists fear that scientists are taking over their territory and trying to explain everything. But new discoveries about the brain don’t explain Macbeth. The products of the mind supervene the mechanisms of the brain. The humanities can be informed by the cognitive sciences even as they supervene them.

If I were presumptuous enough to nominate a few entries, I’d suggest the Fundamental Attribution Error: Don’t try to explain by character traits behavior that is better explained by context.

I’d also nominate the distinction between emotion and arousal. There’s a general assumption that emotional people are always flying off the handle. That’s not true. We would also say that Emily Dickinson was emotionally astute. As far as I know, she did not go around screaming all the time. It would be useful if we could distinguish between the emotionality of Dickinson and the arousal of the talk-show jock.

Public life would be vastly improved if people relied more on the concept of emergence. Many contributors to the Edge symposium hit on this point.

We often try to understand problems by taking apart and studying their constituent parts. But emergent problems can’t be understood this way. Emergent systems are ones in which many different elements interact. The pattern of interaction then produces a new element that is greater than the sum of the parts, which then exercises a top-down influence on the constituent elements.

Culture is an emergent system. A group of people establishes a pattern of interaction. And once that culture exists, it influences how the individuals in it behave. An economy is an emergent system. So is political polarization, rising health care costs and a bad marriage.

Emergent systems are bottom-up and top-down simultaneously. They have to be studied differently, as wholes and as nested networks of relationships. We still try to address problems like poverty and Islamic extremism by trying to tease out individual causes. We might make more headway if we thought emergently.

We’d certainly be better off if everyone sampled the fabulous Edge symposium, which, like the best in science, is modest and daring all at once.

Posted in Philosophy
Comments Off on Tools for Thinking – New York Times article

Tai Chi Eases Depression in Elderly – New York Times article

Posted By Tom Daly on March 19th, 2011

March 18, 2011, 1:18 pm

Tai Chi Eases Depression in Elderly


Robert Spencer for The New York Times A tai chi group practicing in Pawtucket, R.I.

The ancient Chinese practice of tai chi appears to relieve symptoms of depression in older people, a new study shows.

The findings, published this month in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, are the latest to suggest that the slow movement, breathing and meditation of tai chi results in meaningful benefits to patients with chronic health problems. Other recent studies have shown that practicing tai chi may provide benefits for patients with arthritis and fibromyalgia. But the newest research is important because depression is notoriously difficult to treat in older people, many of whom are already coping with other health problems and are less likely to respond to drug treatment.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, studied 112 older adults, in whom major depression had been diagnosed, including many who had been struggling with the illness for years. Their average age was about 70. Everyone was first treated with Lexapro, and 73 exhibited a partial improvement but still scored high on depression scales. The rest of the patients dropped out of the study, including just one patient who had a full remission after drug treatment.

The remaining depressed patients were randomly assigned to either a 10-week course of tai chi or a health education class, which included 10 minutes of simple stretching exercises. Both courses were given for two hours once a week.

After 10 weeks of tai chi, 94 percent of depressed older adults showed marked improvement on depression scales, compared with 77 percent in the health education group. And 65 percent of the people in the tai chi group experienced remission, compared with 51 percent in the education group.

The tai chi group also showed marked improvement in measures of physical function, cognitive tests and blood tests measuring levels of inflammation.

“Altogether the effects were pretty dramatic,’’ said Dr. Helen Lavretsky, lead author and professor of psychiatry at U.C.L.A. “If a psychiatrist were to add exercise like tai chi, which is very nondemanding and easy to access, that would be a very beneficial thing instead of adding another drug.”

Dr. Lavretsky said one reason both study groups showed improvement was that all the patients probably benefited from spending time with other people, whether it was in the practice of tai chi or the group education class. “I’m sure the social aspect contributed to the improvement in both groups,’’ she said. “In the control group we see improvement, and that was purely because of the social interaction and bonding that occurred.”

But the marked improvement in the tai chi group suggests an additional benefit from tai chi. Research has shown tai chi can improve physical function and quality of life, relieve stress and anxiety and lead to improved sleep quality, the study authors noted.

Dr. Lavretsky said the findings are exciting because depression is so difficult to treat in older people, two-thirds of whom don’t respond to initial drug therapy. Often when a patient doesn’t respond to the first drug, an additional drug is given, but that’s not always practical for patients who are already taking 10 or 15 drugs for other health problems. A study this month found that more than 60 percent of patients over 65 experience moderate or major side effects the first time they are prescribed an antidepressant.

“This is very easily translatable into community care,’’ she said. “As their health improves, they may be able to reduce the other drugs they are taking for pain or other problems.”

A NYTimes reader comment:  “Not surprised. My grandmother in Hong Kong lived to almost a hundred without any major health issues and was mentally sharp till the end. She practiced a form of tai chi everyday at 5 am. I was sure that the tai chi was a large reason for her well being along with a simple diet of fish, fruit and vegetables with little meat.”

Posted in Philosophy
Comments Off on Tai Chi Eases Depression in Elderly – New York Times article

Tai Chi Chuan – A Koan Like Mu

Posted By Tom Daly on March 15th, 2011

Tai Chi Chuan – A Koan Like Mu

Buddadharma had a review of a collection of essays discussing the famous “Mu” Koan from Zen. A fellow tai chi player (I had lent the article to him) noted that one commentary discussed the approach to Mu through six strategies and these six strategies are useful for solving the tai chi koan. That is, for practicing the tai chi form.

Who knew? I think he’s right….

Without going into Mu, Koans or Zen, let me put forth these strategies and make a note or two of my own. Let me replace the word “koan” with the word “form.”

1. Finding the form by eliminating distractions – The word distractions does not mean that you practice in perfect isolation from outside disturbances. It means that they are not so prominent that you can’t ignore them. You do need to be able to focus on what you are doing and not attend to other activities. I think a second meaning might also be to eliminate tension, often an unconscious habit based distraction. A third meaning here would point to poor structural alignment which is crucial in tai chi. With a poor alignment, you are not doing the form. You are maintaining the poor alignment. Lastly, you are focusing on your form. Not your laundry list….

2. Seeing that any part of the form contains the whole – Every part of the form is like every other part of the form in that each one is complete, relaxed, open, grounded, centered, balanced, etc. All of this happens at every moment. What changes are the shapes themselves. But each posture has the same essential quality as the next posture. The overall energy of each shape will vary however.

3. Accepting your various mental states – You don’t ignore where you are mentally and emotionally. You don’t control it. You relax the mind and put it in the tan t’ien (center.) But if mental distractions arise, you allow them to come and go. Generally, by not fighting them, you are not fighting yourself. If they stick around, that’s the way it goes for this round! Don’t fight it!

4. Relaxing or not trying too hard to solve the form – Clearly relaxing is what we are practicing. Trying too hard is another way to be tense and to fight yourself. So JUST relax, but don’t force relaxation. This is the middle way.

5. Minding your own business by staying focused on the case – While a group form requires that we pay attention to others in terms of the overall timing of the form, we don’t get involved in judging other practitioners. We just stick and follow the group chi. We do allow the energy of the group to inform our own energy. But to focus on others removes the focus on you. Again, we are not ignoring others or excluding them from our own experience of the form. A side bar to this occurs in push hands practice. We often blame the partner for our own inadequacy. We need to stay focused on the case – ourselves – in order to solve the situation. Stopping them from what they are doing to us is not the solution. You are the solution by way of relaxation, structure and being alert. But we can’t exclude them – particularly if they are providing us with the push hands problem to solve. (That being stated, note you may not have the skill today to solve this particular push hands situation. You may need to put it on hold, or work on it through static or ultra slow motion simulations.)

6. Timing, remaining patient while the process of working with the case gradually unfolds – This is exactly how to work through the form. Allowing it to unfold, not forcing it in any way and to see where it leads you. The form is very much like an amoeba morphing into different shapes. Internally, you are still. In one sense you are in control, but in another, you are not in control. You are following the internal forward motion and it moves you. You can interfere with this if you want to or need to, but in the form that will disrupt your energy, your chi.

Let me summarize this by way of the tai chi classics:

“T’ai Chi Ch’uan is like a great river rolling on unceasingly.”

And now become one…

Posted in Philosophy
Comments Off on Tai Chi Chuan – A Koan Like Mu

Tai Chi Chuan – Yielding Is So Very Hard To Do

Posted By Tom Daly on March 11th, 2011

Tai Chi Chuan – Yielding Is So Very Hard To Do

Ain’t it the truth?

I began a new beginning class under less than desirable conditions. The room was too small for the number of students. The mirror didn’t go all the way to the floor. The space itself was a rectangle, not a square, so one side or the other was having difficulty in watching me. Some students found this frustrating and disappointing.

A long term tai chi student would approach this situation differently. The shape of the room, the mirror and the crammed conditions were obstacles. While the long term student may not like the conditions, the first response would be to yield to the situation and merge within it. That is, the very obstacle would be the first thing to work with. A long term student would use the constraints to help them in their study and not let that be a hindrance.

This is similar to push hands where you constantly adjust to the outside circumstance. The force coming at you is the very clay of the art form. The circumstance itself tells you what you need to do. The practice is to adjust yourself to some external force that ordinarily you would not want in life. That is the challenge and the joy – learning how to manifest that. To get with. To find a way to let this work FOR you, not AGAINST you.

In tai chi, we learn to take what is and then find a way to use it to our advantage. There are lots of ways to work with a crowded oblong room. The first would be to let go of the mental irritation of having to deal with the room/crowd. Letting that go, you might see how you can merge with all these bodies energetically, find a way to fit in just so, so that everyone can fit in, and then see if there might be some way to find comfort in this. Perhaps all these students are giving you support and lifting up your energy and helping move you simply through your connection to them, like leaning on a good friend. You rest on them. Let them lighten the burden. Non-doing in a crowded subway!

Yielding is perhaps the most difficult lesson to learn in tai chi. Most of us are NOT raised to yield. We are raised to get what we want. But there are many ways to achieve this.

Can you yield in life too much? Doesn’t that set up a condition where you might become a doormat? If you yield yield yield are you allowing everyone else and their mothers to tromp over you so that they get what they want, leaving you behind in a dust cloud?

Tai chi has another quality, that of being “rooted” in the ground. The wind may blow, but the bamboo only bends. You don’t lose your bearing.

This is why the phrase, “yield and return” is so important in tai chi and in life. Within the yield there is a return. You bend to circumstances, but you also see – feel – experience – a larger picture. From that larger picture, there is a way to become stabile and centered. Careful adjustments take place so that you yield, but your root is not destroyed. You are not plowed over. And if you are really skillful, your yield gives you a tremendous advantage. It will hold the key to the return.

It always amused me that Professor Cheng recommended that males do tai chi push hands with females. The point is that the male aggressiveness might be softened by playing with a woman partner, and the woman might feel freer to be more bold and forthright in pushing with a male. Classic testosterone and estrogen balancing. We give to and balance with each other. The opposing tendencies in our hormonal worlds give each other something to learn from.

Our own sense of self encourages a non-yielding attitude of entitlement:

“I want it this way.”
“I’m the customer!”
“I’ve paid the price of admission!”
“You owe me.”
“This is what I need.”
“This way is the right way.”
“Look, here is my guarantee.”
“How dare you speak to me in that tone!”
“Go to hell!”

Contrast that attitude with taking life on ITS terms, not yours. This scares me. I bet it seems almost unreasonable to enter a situation from the perspective of the situation, and mesh into the situation, instead of dominating it. Or manipulating it. Or making it better so that you feel more comfortable. Yipes, haven’t we just entered the world of passivity and letting life dominate YOU?

Clearly there is a choice to be made when action, control, effort, and taking a stand are appropriate responses to the situation at hand. Your root (stability) has to be given voice, but you might yield in order to respond to that situation so that the situation is handled with greater ease. That is, you might want to correct something without creating a new problem in its place or hurting yourself in the process.

Another phrase in tai chi push hands is “invest in loss.” You refuse to resist the force, even if it means that you will be pushed out. By doing so, you end up learning how to truly connect with the situation. But it takes time and lots of “loss.” The benefit is an experiential understanding of how much “give” it takes to mesh with and ultimately conquer the situation. (That being stated, I have to admit that for most of us, this is not particularly fun!)

In tai chi, the question is not whether to yield or not to yield. The question is HOW MUCH and the proper timing of the response after you yield (the return.) When the activity is going well, we tend to laugh with each other and respond with curiosity. When it is going poorly, we tend to get mad and want to win or leave the game as soon as possible.

Either way, you are learning invaluable lessons. I can’t think of a better study than tai chi in order to learn this.

Posted in Philosophy
Comments Off on Tai Chi Chuan – Yielding Is So Very Hard To Do

Can Exercise Keep You Young? New York Times article

Posted By Tom Daly on March 3rd, 2011

New York Times article that indicates that exercise helps maintain youthfulness. We often claim the same for Tai Chi. This is particularly true if you are a lab rat. See below. Tom

March 2, 2011, 12:02 am

Can Exercise Keep You Young?


We all know that physical activity is beneficial in countless ways, but even so, Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, was startled to discover that exercise kept a strain of mice from becoming gray prematurely.

But shiny fur was the least of its benefits. Indeed, in heartening new research published last week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, exercise reduced or eliminated almost every detrimental effect of aging in mice that had been genetically programmed to grow old at an accelerated pace.

In the experiment, Dr. Tarnopolsky and his colleagues used lab rodents that carry a genetic mutation affecting how well their bodies repair malfunctioning mitochondria, which are tiny organelles within cells. Mitochondria combine oxygen and nutrients to create fuel for the cells — they are microscopic power generators.

Mitochrondria have their own DNA, distinct from the cell’s own genetic material, and they multiply on their own. But in the process, mitochondria can accumulate small genetic mutations, which under normal circumstances are corrected by specialized repair systems within the cell. Over time, as we age, the number of mutations begins to outstrip the system’s ability to make repairs, and mitochondria start malfunctioning and dying.

Many scientists consider the loss of healthy mitochondria to be an important underlying cause of aging in mammals. As resident mitochondria falter, the cells they fuel wither or die. Muscles shrink, brain volume drops, hair falls out or loses its pigmentation, and soon enough we are, in appearance and beneath the surface, old.

The mice that Dr. Tarnopolsky and his colleagues used lacked the primary mitochondrial repair mechanism, so they developed malfunctioning mitochondria early in their lives, as early as 3 months of age, the human equivalent of age 20. By the time they reached 8 months, or their early 60s in human terms, the animals were extremely frail and decrepit, with spindly muscles, shrunken brains, enlarged hearts, shriveled gonads and patchy, graying fur. Listless, they barely moved around their cages. All were dead before reaching a year of age.

Except the mice that exercised.

Half of the mice were allowed to run on a wheel for 45 minutes three times a week, beginning at 3 months. These rodent runners were required to maintain a fairly brisk pace, Dr. Tarnopolsky said: “It was about like a person running a 50- or 55-minute 10K.” (A 10K race is 6.2 miles.) The mice continued this regimen for five months.

At 8 months, when their sedentary lab mates were bald, frail and dying, the running rats remained youthful. They had full pelts of dark fur, no salt-and-pepper shadings. They also had maintained almost all of their muscle mass and brain volume. Their gonads were normal, as were their hearts. They could balance on narrow rods, the showoffs.

But perhaps most remarkable, although they still harbored the mutation that should have affected mitochondrial repair, they had more mitochondria over all and far fewer with mutations than the sedentary mice had. At 1 year, none of the exercising mice had died of natural causes. (Some were sacrificed to compare their cellular health to that of the unexercised mice, all of whom were, by that age, dead.)

The researchers were surprised by the magnitude of the impact that exercise had on the animals’ aging process, Dr. Tarnopolsky said. He and his colleagues had expected to find that exercise would affect mitochondrial health in muscles, including the heart, since past research had shown a connection. They had not expected that it would affect every tissue and bodily system studied.

Other studies, including a number from Dr. Tarnopolsky’s own lab, have also found that exercise affects the course of aging, but none has shown such a comprehensive effect. And precisely how exercise alters the aging process remains unknown. In this experiment, running resulted in an upsurge in the rodents’ production of a protein known as PGC-1alpha, which regulates genes involved in metabolism and energy creation, including mitochondrial function. Exercise also sparked the repair of malfunctioning mitochondria through a mechanism outside the known repair pathway; in these mutant mice, that pathway didn’t exist, but their mitochondria were nonetheless being repaired.

Dr. Tarnopolsky is currently overseeing a number of experiments that he expects will help to elucidate the specific physiological mechanisms. But for now, he said, the lesson of his experiment and dozens like it is unambiguous. “Exercise alters the course of aging,” he said.

Although in this experiment, the activity was aerobic and strenuous, Dr. Tarnopolsky is not convinced that either is absolutely necessary for benefits. Studies of older humans have shown that weightlifting can improve mitochondrial health, he said, as can moderate endurance exercise. Although there is probably a threshold amount of exercise that is necessary to affect physiological aging, Dr. Tarnopolsky said, “anything is better than nothing.” If you haven’t been active in the past, he continued, start walking five minutes a day, then begin to increase your activity level.

The potential benefits have attractions even for the young. While Dr. Tarnopolsky, a lifelong athlete, noted with satisfaction that active, aged mice kept their hair, his younger graduate students were far more interested in the animals’ robust gonads. Their testicles and ovaries hadn’t shrunk, unlike those of sedentary elderly mice.

Dr. Tarnopolsky’s students were impressed. “I think they all exercise now,” he said.

Posted in Philosophy
Comments Off on Can Exercise Keep You Young? New York Times article