Patient Daily Living

Live a Healthier Life with Tai Chi

Yin & Yang

Originally used as a Chinese martial art, tai chi is now a popular exercise that utilizes slow and sequential body patterns combined with relaxing breathing exercises. While it is a great fitness regimen for all ages, it can be especially helpful for seniors by reducing the risk of dementia, depression, and seniors falling down. Other possible benefits including increasing bone density, immune system enhancement, and balance improvement, and by better understanding this ancient exercise, you can decide whether it is time for you to start practicing tai chi.

Tai Chi throughout History

The art of tai chi originated in China thousands of years ago, and it is a descendent of the ancient Chinese discipline called qigong. Tai chi is based on the beliefs of yin and yang and Qi. Qi is thought to be the energy force that flows through the body. Alternatively, yin and yang act as opposing elements that work together to keep the universe in harmony. Tai chi utilizes both of these concepts, and practitioners believe that when Qi flows properly, a positive yin-yang balance will follow.

Tai Chi and Your Physical Health

Tai Chi

Tai chi is a slow and gentle workout, but it can still address your fitness needs in order to improve your physical health. One of the biggest benefits of tai chi is that it has the capacity to prevent falls by improving balance. Tai chi works to strengthen weak muscles in the legs, and it improves the ability of the ankles to flex when on uneven surfaces. Tai chi can also increase core strength, which improves balance and enhances our ability to use inner ear information to maintain that balance.

When combined with medical treatment plans, tai chi can also be beneficial in improving certain health conditions. Arthritis is one such condition that has seen improvement with this exercise, and a 2008 study found that exercising with tai chi for two hours per week improved the functioning of people who were battling severe arthritis of the knee. Another study further indicated that tai chi could improve flexibility while lowering the disease process of ankylosing spondylitis, a more debilitating and painful type of arthritis.

Tai chi has also shown benefits for people who are battling serious illnesses. Recent research found that when people participated in tai chi after a stroke, they experienced improvements with better joint and muscle mobilization. Likewise, when people with Parkinson's disease engaged in a tai chi program, they witnessed improved walking ability and balance.

Tai Chi and Your Emotional Wellbeing

In addition to the physical benefits of tai chi, this exercise is thought to enhance the emotional and mental wellbeing of a variety of participants. Researchers from the University of Houston have conducted a review of tai chi studies to examine the reported psychological benefits. This study indicated that the psychological gains of tai chi included improved confidence, motivation, quality of life, anxiety, depression, and mood.

Research has also found promising results that indicate tai chi can help to relieve depression, especially with seniors. Researchers at UCLA examined 73 depressed individuals over the age of 60 who were only experiencing minimal relief by taking antidepressants. Half of the participants started taking tai chi, while both groups continued to take antidepressants. After just 10 weeks, the group that was taking tai chi showed dramatic improvements in quality of life, mood, cognition, memory, and overall energy.

Tai chi can also serve as an important stress relief tool. The meditative process of this exercise is a therapeutic practice that can help to relieve everyday stresses. After doing this exercise, participants will develop a more positive attitude and mind, and by decreasing the level of stress that you are experiencing, you can lead a more enjoyable life.

How to Get Started

If you are interested in improving your physical and emotional health by practicing tai chi, it is important to find a skilled and experienced instructor. Your hometown may offer classes in at your local gym or community center. Others may prefer to invest in a workout DVD to practice tai chi privately at home, but working with an instructor is the best way to get the most out of your experience and to minimize injury.

It is especially important to choose an experienced instructor if you are suffering from a certain disease or health condition, as there may be moves that you should avoid. Make sure that your instructor knows about your overall health so that he or she can prevent you from practicing movements that might aggravate your conditions. You should also consult with your physician to ensure that tai chi is a good exercise option for you.

Before you begin tai chi, you should also keep the following tips in mind:

  • Start slowly . Allow yourself ample time to learn how to correctly position your body, and don't push yourself too hard.
  • Always warm up . The martial art of tai chi can be tiring, as your joints and muscles will be moving constantly, so a good warm up session is needed to prevent injury.
  • Know your limits . If certain moves cause you great difficulty, they should be discontinued. There are a variety of movements practiced with tai chi, and there are numerous others that may be more suitable for you.
  • Dress appropriately . Make sure to wear loose-fitting clothes and flexible shoes that won't restrict your movements.

Tai chi can be enjoyed by participants of all ages. Find a class and start taking advantage of the many benefits that tai chi has to offer.

- Written By

Thomas Anderson

Geriatric Care Manager
Thomas Anderson has over 15 years of experience providing care and support to elderly individuals. He specializes in helping seniors manage their medical needs and navigate the healthcare system. Thomas keenly understands how to help aging adults stay as independent as possible while ensuring they have access to the best available resources.