On Your Health

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The Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Tai Chi

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese practice based on martial arts. It’s an exercise that engages your mind and body – think of it as “meditation with movement,” using low-impact, slow-motion movements that flow. Usually, you stand when doing Tai Chi, but it can also be modified to perform in a sitting position.

What to expect from your first class

Your session will begin with a 5-10 minute warm-up designed to get yourself "centered." You will be asked to focus on your breathing, your posture and your thoughts.

Your instructor will then take you through a series of movements all performed in continuous, circular movements. These circular movements will typically last up to 30 minutes, followed by a 5-10 minute cool-down.

Tai Chi is rooted in the concept of “Qi,” (or “Chi”), which is said to be the energy that flows through all living creatures. Though many western physicians don’t fully understand the concepts of Qi, the scientific evidence of Tai Chi’s benefits is persuasive.

There are numerous studies showing that Tai Chi leads to better health, reduced symptoms of disease and successful aging. Tai Chi is a gentle form of movement and is an especially good exercise for those with osteoarthritis. It helps build core body strength and improves lower limb musculature.

In the elderly, Tai Chi can help reduce their risk of falls since it focuses on strength and balance, and other studies show it lowers their blood pressure.  Tai Chi also relaxes muscle tension and eases muscle pain.

The benefits of Tai Chi

Dawn Addison, a licensed physical therapist at INTEGRIS, is also a certified Tai Chi instructor. Dawn says, “When you practice Tai Chi, you are focusing on deep breathing while calming your mind and performing the specific movements.” She says it's easy for people of all fitness levels to find physical and mental benefits in Tai Chi. Here are Dawn's favorite benefits in a handy list.

  • Improves flexibility, strength and endurance
  • Increases cardiovascular health
  • Decreases falls and improves balance
  • Decreases pain
  • Increases bone density
  • Provides relaxation and stress management
  • Decreases anxiety and depression
  • Improves sleep quality
  • Decreases blood pressure
  • Increases functional fitness so seniors can be more independent

Dr. Andrew Weil is an internationally recognized expert for his views on leading a healthy lifestyle. He says about Tai Chi, “Anyone with an existing health condition is well-advised to consult with their physician before beginning any exercise program… (but) Tai Chi is perhaps the lowest-impact exercise in popular use. It is extremely gentle and can be used for those with a relatively fragile constitution if done carefully,” he says.

Dr. Weil believes Tai Chi is wonderful for mental and physical stimulation and is great for overall health.

If you are interested in trying Tai Chi, contact Dawn at [email protected] for more information. Also, Tai Chi is offered several times a week at the YMCA HEALTHY LIVING CENTER – INTEGRIS.