Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that features slow movements and deep breathing. Widely practiced in China, there are hundreds of research articles published about the benefits of tai chi.
- Tai chi is frequently suggested as an appropriate exercise to prevent falls in older adults.
- A 2018 study found tai chi to be equivalent to pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD.
- Another six-month program for people with hypertension showed significantly lower blood pressure and body mass than the usual care group.
- A comparison of tai chi, brisk walking, and a control group found the tai chi group had the most improvement in postural control after 24 weeks.
Tai chi is also studied for its mindfulness aspect and has shown an effect on depression and anxiety.
Tai Chi is a genuinely integrated health-promoting practice with some physical benefits but also psychological benefits, giving it an advantage over activities that enhance only physical aspects of health… In addition, the cluster of psychological and psychosocial benefits seen in our findings is consistent with the deliberate mindfulness training of Tai Chi, which aims to improve well-being by focusing emotions and sensations on the events occuring at the present moment. – Webster, et al, Preventive Medicine Reports, 2016
A few years ago, I was invited to visit a tai chi class at Rio Linda Community Center where a lively group of eight women and one man was there to attend the Wednesday morning class. Miss Charlotte, a certified massage therapist as well as tai chi instructor, had been teaching at Rio Linda since 1997. Many of her regular students were referred to the class by their physicians. As the demographics of her class changed over the years, she added more relaxation techniques to the routine.
Relaxation was the goal for the first half of the session. “We eat with our mouth, we breathe with our nose,” she reminded them. As she walked around the circle, softly talking and singing, Miss Charlotte gently touched their shoulders, washing away the stress.
While most of the participants were practiced relaxers, it was obvious even to an untrained eye that one student showed tension. A recent addition to the class, she disclosed that she was a caregiver for her husband and felt that tai chi was reducing the stress.
90-year-old Lois had been attending tai chi classes for nearly 10 years. She broke her leg in two places that July, went to physical therapy for three months and was back in tai chi by September. She credited her tai chi practice with the quick recovery.
Miss Charlotte keeps a collection of handwritten notes from her students. In one note, 70-something Harry described being surprised by his fitness level after beginning tai chi class. “In a burst of energy, I ran up a 10-foot embankment,” he wrote, ‘A passerby yelled out “wait until you’re 60, you won’t be able to do that.’ Another student turned to tai chi after suffering a brain aneurysm. “The exercises helped my hands,” she commented. “I was unable to press my hands together and now I can.”
Each class participant talked about feeling physically better but, more importantly, less stressed and happier than they felt before they started practicing. Most gyms, senior and community centers offer tai chi where an instructor can ensure you are following the correct form. If no class is available, there are many online videos and DVDs for beginners. The Arthritis Foundation offers videos and sells a two-disc “Tai Chi for Arthritis” DVD for home use. One of our Matter of Balance class participants used Scott Cole’s “Discover Tai Chi for Balance and Mobility” and reported that she preferred it to the more rigorous local class she tried. As with all exercise programs, check with your doctor first.