I have a confession to make.
Based on the science, for years I have been recommending Tai Chi to my patients without ever doing it myself.
To avoid being a hypocrite any longer, I decided to attend my first ever Tai Chi class. The class was a free one set in a large open square. My first impression was just how warm and welcoming everyone was. Despite my initial apprehension about trying something new, I immediately felt at ease.
Tai Chi is a form of Chinese moving meditation that has been practiced for hundreds of years. It is based on the concepts of promoting the flow of Chi, or energy, and balancing yin and yang.
Tai Chi is a form of graceful movement that is gentle and non-competitive. Movements are slow and focused, and accompanied by deep breathing.
The great thing about Tai Chi is that is has wide-ranging benefits, including balance, pain and stress management.
A key element of Tai Chi is that it involves unilateral weight bearing and weight shifting, which means it provides a challenge for balance, hence it can help decrease the risk of falls.
In one study, people who had already had a fall were assigned to either Tai Chi or a mixture of aerobic exercise and strength training or stretching.
After six months, both the exercise group and Tai Chi group had a lower risk of falls, but even compared to exercise, Tai Chi was the most effective way to prevent falls.
Tai Chi also has a role in managing chronic pain. Two studies have been done with people who have fibromyalgia, which is a complex disorder characterized by chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbance.
People with this condition often describe brain fog and a generally low sense of well-being. The participants were assigned to Tai Chi classes or to guided exercise. Those who took Tai Chi had a significant reduction in pain at six months, as well as an improved sense of well-being.
The question is, why does Tai Chi have such wide-ranging health benefits?
One of the most important benefits of exercise in general is that it is good for mental health. Tai Chi is no different as it benefits people who struggle with depression, anxiety, and stress management.
In any form of exercise, we release neurotransmitters, which are our brain’s chemical messengers, that are associated with improved mood.
There is also some fascinating evidence that exercise modulates our immune function, and since higher levels of inflammation are associated with depression, this might be a key mechanism of action.
Since Tai Chi is a true mind-and-body intervention, it helps people to practice concentration.
The slow sequence of movements is obviously physical, but it takes significant focus to be able to do this. This can create a state of flow, or intense and focused concentration with a loss of self-consciousness. In a world full of distractions, this can be a welcome break for our minds.
As I worked on mirroring the instructor’s slow and controlled movement, I could certainly feel the cognitive challenge as well, and since any form of cognitive challenge is good for our brains, it’s highly plausible that Tai Chi could be good for preserving brain power as well.
Tai Chi is a low impact exercise and doesn’t need any special equipment. There are group classes available, but it is also something that you can do at home with an online video.
If you are interested in learning more, please visit Project 3-6-12 to get your free e-book and learn about our online women’s health course.
What exercise practices have you tried? Is Tai Chi among them? How does exercise benefit you personally? Please share in the comments below.
Tags Healthy Aging