Tai chi is an ancient Chinese marital arts practice that incorporates slow, deliberate movements with breathing exercises and meditation. The low-impact movements flow together without pauses between each pose, keeping the body in constant motion.
Popular among older adults interested in maintaining fitness levels, tai chi is also appropriate for people of all ages and abilities. Tai chi offers many benefits that make it a worthwhile addition to any fitness routine, although the activity does not increase your heart rate so it is not a substitute for cardiovascular activity, such as walking or swimming.
If you’re thinking about giving tai chi a try, here are some of the reasons to do so:
Improves balance and coordination. This can help you reduce your risk of falling. Researchers compared the effects of tai chi to leg strengthening exercises in reducing falls and found that after 6 months of training, people who practiced tai chi were significantly less likely to experience an injury-causing fall. In fact, tai chi is recommended by the American Geriatrics Society for its ability to help prevent falls in healthy seniors, as well as in those with health conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
Increases flexibility. Through gentle and continuous movements, tai chi increases flexibility throughout your body. This is especially important for people who are otherwise relatively inactive.
Builds muscle strength. Although you don’t necessarily target specific muscles in specific places with each move, the flowing movements of tai chi use your body weight to strengthen muscles in your arms, legs, glutes, back and core.
Easy on the joints. Tai chi movements are low-impact and put minimal stress on joints. A study from the Tufts Medical Center in Boston found that adults with knee osteoarthritis had improvement in pain and joint function when doing bi-weekly tai chi sessions.
Helps improve sleep. One study of adults ages 59 – 86 with moderate sleep complaints found that doing tai chi may improve sleep quality.
May lower stress. The meditative nature of tai chi can help you de-stress. This can benefit anyone no matter what their fitness level since stress is a major contributor to a number of serious health problems.
Sharpens your brain. A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that the attention needed to perform tai chi movements may help improve brain volume and memory as people age. This can lower the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to improved cognitive function, tai chi may help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Almost anyone can do it. Tai chi is a good starter activity for people who have been sedentary or who have physical limitations that make other types of exercise difficult. It can even be done by people who cannot stand. Tai chi is often recommended for aging adults who have difficulty performing other types of strength or balance training exercises, but it can also provide benefits to anyone of any age or fitness level.
Of course, you should always check with a medical professional before beginning any exercise routine, especially if you have health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.