Teresa Heitzmann, MSPT,
TAI CHI IS BETTER THAN A GLASS OF WINE!
Tai Chi is rapidly becoming one of the most popular forms of exercise in Western Culture.
And for good reason! Its benefits are far reaching, offering both physical and mental enhancement appropriate for people of all ages. Tai Chi has become widely recognized as a gentle form of fitness that packs a powerful health punch that may help mitigate disease and improve quality of life for years to come.
So what exactly is Tai Chi??
Tai chi is a fascinating mind-body art form comprised of multiple Asian traditions including martial arts, traditional Chinese medicine and philosophy. It consists of a series of slow martial arts movements combined with the mindful practice of Taoism, using a series of focused exercises that can be practiced individually or linked together as a tai chi form.
“We often talk about tai chi as mindfulness on wheels,” says Peter M. Wayne, Ph.D., director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, which is jointly based at the Harvard Medical School and Brigham Women’s Hospital, and author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. “It integrates slow, intentional movements with breathing and cognitive skills like imagery,” he says. The result: Enhanced fitness without breaking a sweat.
Tai Chi is based on the concept of “Qi,” (or “Chi”), known as the energy that flows through all living creatures, supporting good health and harmony. While western physicians don’t fully understand the properties of Qi, the scientific proof of its benefits are undeniable.
Like yoga, there are many styles of tai chi. Some are more gentle and easy to learn, while others are more traditional and intense, requiring years of practice to perfect. The foundation is the same however. “Across all tai chi exercises and forms, the posture is the same, the breathing is the same, the relaxation is the same, the whole-body coordination is the same,” says Tommy Kirchhoff, a certified tai chi master in Colorado. “All the moves forbid the use of strength, and yet, when people practice tai chi, they gain strength.”
The list of health and benefits described by the Mayo Clinic are impressive:
Improved aerobic capacity
Increased energy and stamina
Improved flexibility, balance and agility
Improved muscle strength and definition
Enhanced quality of sleep
Enhanced functioning of the immune system
Reduction in blood pressure
Reduction in joint pain
Improved symptoms of congestive heart failure
Reduction in the risk of falls in older adults
Several studies have also shown improvement for those who live with chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, osteoarthritis, COPD, bone density deficits and others.
The second and very important piece of Tai Chi benefits identified by the Mayo Clinic and others include the mental or “mindful” benefits:
Decreased stress, anxiety and depression
Improved overall well-being
Increased mental focus
Improvement in working memory
Social enjoyment and interaction
Perhaps one of the greatest medical benefits of Tai Chi is in the proven reduced risk of falls among the elderly. As our population ages, we have more and more seniors wanting to live active and healthy lifestyles well into their 80s and even 90s. Multiple studies have concluded that regular Tai Chi practice has a significant impact on balance, mental focus, multitasking, strength and flexibility. Together these enhancements consistently lead to more confidence and overall decreased incidence in falls. Because falls are a leading cause of hospitalization and overall decline among the elderly, these benefits are a very big deal for our seniors.
Finally, the socialization associated with participating in Tai Chi classes, whether they be in person or virtual, has proven to be of great value to our communities. With increased socialization, we benefit from improved moods, improved cognition, improved confidence, a sense of belonging, and improved overall well-being. Particularly as we age, finding new social networks are vital to keeping us engaged, learning, and building new relationships, all while having a positive impact on our overall health and wellness! Some may even argue that Tai Chi is better than a glass of wine:)
To learn more about Tai Chi in your community, reach out to your local fitness centers or visit online Tai Chi for Health programs, and begin your journey to a healthy and mindful future!