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The Health Benefits of Tai Chi

Tai chi is a mind-body practice, one that involves series of slow, uniform exercises that combine meditation, movement, and rhythmic breathing. Initially, Tai Chi was designed to be a form of martial arts, but presently, it is considered a type of “moving meditation”. Tai Chi movements help stimulate the flow of chi (vital energy), thus promoting healing from various health conditions.

Many Tai Chi practitioners use this exercise to enhance their mental and physical health and improve balance, posture, strength, and flexibility. Also, Tai chi is a well-known mood booster and helps alleviate pain, strengthen the immune system, and improve heart health.

In this article, Dr. Brett Brener of Foundation Chiropractic Lutz, FL, discusses the health benefits of Tai Chi, as well as the risks and how you can begin practicing it.

Image by franciscojcesar from Pixabay


First, what is the history of Tai Chi?

The origins of Tai chi are a mystery. However, the concepts of this form of exercise are rooted in Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese history.

Zhang Sanfeng is believed to be the founder of Tai Chi. He was a 12th-century monk. Legend has it that Sanfeng left his monastery and became a hermit. While living as a hermit, Sanfeng developed a technique of fighting based on softness.


Types of Tai Chi

It is worth mentioning that there are five styles of tai chi. These five styles date back to different historical periods. Each tai chi is guided by a unique principle and method, date of origin, and lineage.

The five styles of Tai Chi are:

· Chen style, dating back to 1528–1587

· Yang style, dating back to 1799–1872

· Wu Hao or Wu style, dating back to 1812–1880

· Wu style, dating back to 1870–1942

· Sun style, dating back to 1861–1932

While some tai chi forms are designed to promote good health, others lean towards self-defense or stress competition.

If you’d like to take Tai chi as a course, you must consult an experienced instructor who will guide you on the right style to practice and the potential benefits.


Who can do tai chi?

Tai chi isn’t a violent or strenuous form of exercise. It is low impact and puts very little stress on your joints and muscles, making it safe for all fitness levels and ages. Because of its low impact, it is suitable for older adults who do not exercise frequently.


Another thing that makes tai chi appealing is that it is cheap and doesn’t require any expensive or special equipment. You can do it anywhere, outside or indoors. Also, you can do your Tai chi in a group class or alone, if you want to.

Agreed, tai chi is safe, but people with back pain, joint problems, fractures, a hernia, or severe osteoporosis should talk to their healthcare provider before starting a tai chi course. Your doctor may advise you to modify or altogether avoid specific postures.


Health benefits of Tai chi

Several studies suggest that tai chi has a wide range of health benefits for people with chronic conditions and those without it. The health benefits of tai chi include:

1. Improved balance

Several studies have shown that Tai chi is beneficial in preventing falls and trips in older adults. For instance, a 2012 review by Gillespie and colleagues examined 159 randomized controlled trials of different types of practices to prevent falls in the elderly. No less than 79, 193 people participated in the studies. The authors concluded that tai chi was effective in reducing the risk of falling.

Another systematic review involving 544 tai chi practitioners found that this exercise form helped improve flexibility and balance control. It is also worth mentioning that a 2014 review found that exercises such as tai chi helped to reduce the fear of falling in older adults who participated in a workout. However, the authors did not make any conclusions about it reducing fall frequency.

2. Reduces stress

Another essential benefit of tai chi is its stress-reducing ability, as well as its anti-anxiety effects. However, evidence surrounding these claims is primarily anecdotal.

A 2018 study by Zheng et al., compared the stress-relieving effects of tai chi to conventional exercise. Fifty participants were involved in the study. Results from the study showed that tai chi was as beneficial in stress management as traditional exercise. It is important to note that focused breathing and meditation are components of tai chi. This led the researchers to believe that tai chi may be more effective than other forms of exercise regarding reducing stress and anxiety. Nevertheless, there is a need for larger-scale studies on this.

3. It improves sleep quality

Regular tai chi improves your sleep quality. It helps you to have a restful sleep. A 2016 study by Caldwell et al., evaluated the effects of tai chi on anxiety in a group of young adults. The participants were placed on two tai chi classes weekly for ten weeks. Analysis of individual results showed that those who practiced tai chi had better sleep quality than those who did not do tai chi (the control group). The tai chi group also had decreased anxiety symptoms.

It is important to note that tai chi can improve sleep quality in older adults. For example, a 2016 study published in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging reported that older adults with cognitive impairment who did two months of tai chi classes slept better than those who did not.

4. Improves symptoms of fibromyalgia

Do you know that tai chi can complement conventional methods for managing some chronic ailments?

Well, Wang et al., in a recent article published in the British Medical Journal, showed that regular tai chi could reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia in some people. Two hundred twenty-six, for example, adults with fibromyalgia partook in 52 weeks of tai chi practice. The result showed outstanding improvement in their fibromyalgia symptoms compared to those who practiced aerobics.

5. Tai chi reduces the pain caused by arthritis

The role of tai chi in relieving pain caused by arthritis was evaluated in a 2010 study published in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. The study involved 15 rheumatoid arthritis patients. The patients engaged in 12 weeks of tai chi practice. After the study, the subjects felt less pain and improved balance and mobility.

Similar results were reported in another study involving people with knee osteoarthritis. The study involved 40 knee OA participants who practiced tai chi for 60 minutes, twice weekly for 12 weeks. After the study, the participants reported significant pain to relieve and improvement in their quality of life and mobility.

Another study has found that tai chi is as effective as physical therapy concerning the treatment of knee osteoarthritis. If you have arthritis, you must discuss it with your healthcare provider before taking a tai chi course.


Is tai chi similar to yoga?

Tai chi is focused on smooth/fluid movements and has a Chinese origin. Yoga, on the other hand, focuses on posing. It has its roots in Northern India.

Both yoga and tai chi involves deep breathing and meditation. They share several similar benefits, such as:

· Improved sleep

· Improved mood

· Stress relief


Getting started with tai chi

There are many books and videos about tai chi, and you can easily rent any one of them. However, you’re better off learning tai chi under the guidance of a qualified instructor. This gives you a better chance of understanding the proper techniques and gaining the full benefits.

Tai chi classes are organized in many localities today. You can find one by contacting health clubs, local fitness centers, and senior centers. Unfortunately, there’s no standard training program or license for tai chi instructors. So, it would help if you asked about their experience and training, and also get recommendations.

Your instructor will tutor you on specific breathing techniques and positions. In addition, you will be guided on safe practice, especially if you have chronic health conditions, injuries, or problems with balance and coordination.


References

  1. Gillespie LD, Robertson MC, Gillespie WJ, Sherrington C, Gates S, Clemson L, Lamb SE. Interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD007146. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007146.pub3. Accessed 30 July 2021.
  2. Huang Y, Liu X. Improvement of balance control ability and flexibility in the elderly Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) practitioners: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2015;60(2):233–238. doi:10.1016/j.archger.2014.10.016
  3. Zheng, S., Kim, C., Lal, S., Meier, P., Sibbritt, D. and Zaslawski, C. (2018), The Effects of Twelve Weeks of Tai Chi Practice on Anxiety in Stressed But Healthy People Compared to Exercise and Wait-List Groups–A Randomized Controlled Trial. J. Clin. Psychol., 74: 83–92. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22482
  4. Caldwell KL, Bergman SM, Collier SR, et al. Effects of tai chi chuan on anxiety and sleep quality in young adults: lessons from a randomized controlled feasibility study. Nat Sci Sleep. 2016;8:305–314. Published 2016 Nov 14. doi:10.2147/NSS.S117392
  5. Chan AW, Yu DS, Choi KC, Lee DT, Sit JW, Chan HY. Tai chi qigong as a means to improve night-time sleep quality among older adults with cognitive impairment: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Clin Interv Aging. 2016;11:1277–1286. Published 2016 Sep 16. doi:10.2147/CIA.S111927
  6. Wang C, Schmid CH, Fielding RA, et al. Effect of tai chi versus aerobic exercise for fibromyalgia: comparative effectiveness randomized controlled trial. BMJ. 2018;360:k851. Published 2018 Mar 21. doi:10.1136/bmj.k851
  7. Uhlig T, Fongen C, Steen E, Christie A, Ødegård S. Exploring Tai Chi in rheumatoid arthritis: a quantitative and qualitative study. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2010;11:43. Published 2010 Mar 5. doi:10.1186/1471–2474–11–43
  8. Wang C, Schmid CH, Hibberd PL, et al. Tai Chi is effective in treating knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial. Arthritis Rheum. 2009;61(11):1545–1553. doi:10.1002/art.24832
  9. Wang C, Schmid CH, Iversen MD, et al. Comparative Effectiveness of Tai Chi Versus Physical Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2016;165(2):77–86. doi:10.7326/M15–2143

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