Health Benefits Of Tai Chi
Jan 9, 2019 06:16 AM By Sadhana Bharanidharan
Read up about it and you will often find people use "meditation in motion" to describe tai chi. The ancient Chinese tradition, involving deep breathing and slow movements, can be beneficial for both the body and the mind in the most surprising ways.
"We’ve seen improved immunity to viruses and improved vaccine response among people who practiced tai chi," said Dr. Michael Irwin, a professor of behavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles.
There are a number of characteristics that make tai chi stand out — for one, its adaptability. People with bone problems, older adults, people in wheelchairs, pregnant women, and other individuals can take up the practice after consulting their doctor. Usually, there are no problems considering how low-impact the exercise is.
Though it looks nothing like a typical workout involving physical strain and equipment, studies reveal that the benefits should not be underestimated. The prevalence of fractures is lower among those who practice tai chi, not only due to lower rates of bone loss but also improved balance.
This is of particular interest to the elderly who are more prone to falls than the rest of the population. Lower-body strength and upper-body strength can also be improved, experts have noted.
"Although you aren't working with weights or resistance bands, the unsupported arm exercise involved in tai chi strengthens your upper body," said internist Dr. Gloria Yeh, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. "Tai chi strengthens both the lower and upper extremities and also the core muscles of the back and abdomen."
While that has more to do with the physical side of things, tai chi has also been associated with better mental health. In 2018, a study from Australia found that it may be just as effective as regular exercise in reducing stress and anxiety levels.
The inclusion of deep breathing and mindful movements are believed to have a positive impact on the nervous system. One study showed how patients suffering from chronic pain were less depressed and reported a better quality of life when performing tai chi compared to those in physical therapy.
While more research is required to understand the exact mechanism, the emphasis on focus and mindfulness may play a beneficial role in the production of mood-regulating hormones.
"Even with yoga, you can do it and have your mind be somewhere else," Irwin explained. "It’s very hard to do tai chi and not be present."
Keep in mind that you will definitely need guidance from an instructor to master tai chi if you are interested in taking up the practice. While gyms and community centers may run classes, the Tai Chi Foundation and the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association can also offer resources.