As we age, our risk for both loneliness and hypertension increases. Generally, people experiencing loneliness will have elevated cortisol levels (also known as the “stress hormone”) and lower levels of oxytocin (also known as the “cuddle hormone”). Oxytocin is secreted in response to certain intimate situations, like during labor, breastfeeding, and positive spousal interaction, and is known to lower blood pressure.
According to a recent study, regular engagement in the traditional Chinese exercise, Tai Chi, can improve both mood and stress levels, as well as reduce blood pressure amongst older adults with hypertension. While changes in blood pressure may be minor, the improvements seen are due to flow and meditative breath focus. Tai Chi is a physical activity of moderate intensity that incorporates elements of meditative movement, with a focus on the body through movement, intentional breathing in synchrony with the movement, and a meditative state.
Unfortunately, older adults are often in the situation to deal with the loss of a spouse or of friends. Practicing Tai Chi not only gets them active, but it also provides them with a hobby to occupy their time and allows them the ability to meet and connect with others in group settings. These things can decrease loneliness and lead to an overall increase in quality of life.
Written by Victoria Luera, Lone Star Circle of Care Registered Dietitian. Submitted by Ashley Wild