Tai chi is an old and traditional form of martial arts from China, developed by Taoist monk Zhang Sanfeng in the 12th century. Tai chi is known as “meditation in motion” or at times “medication in motion. There is emerging evidence proving that this slow-moving and low-impact martial art has been treating health problems. Everyone can do this, even if not in the best shape.
Do not be surprised when the instructor tells you to spread your arms like a crane, or do “box both ears”, these are kinds of motions named after animals. As you work with slow motion, you breathe naturally and deeply and focus your attention on a form of meditation.
Unlike other types of exercises, tai chi consists of circular motions where the muscles are not forced, they are relaxed, joints are not bent or fully extended and connective tissues are not pulled. This slow-moving exercise can be easily performed by anyone, from fit people to people who are in wheelchairs, or even those recovering from surgery.
An Introduction To Tai Chi Video (Length 4m 56s)
Parts of Tai Chi
These parts might be included in a tai chi class:
Warm-Up – is performed to loosen muscles by gently turning the head from side to side, doing shoulders in circles, or rocking back.
Practice of different forms of tai chi – like short forms and long forms. Short forms may include fewer or a little movements, and is usually done by beginners, therefore beneficial if you are older and not in very good condition. Long forms may include a wide range of movements.
Qigong (pronounced as “chi-kung”) – if translated, this means “breathe work”. This involves a couple of minutes of breathing, and exercises combined with gentle motion. This helps your mind and body to relax and to “channel” the energy throughout your body. This can be done by standing or sitting, or even lying down.
According to some studies, even fear of falling will likely make you fall, and importantly tai chi helps to reduce this unwanted fear.
Though tai chi does not include intense movement and does not leave you breathless, key components are addressed by it, such as balance, flexibility, aerobic condition, and muscle strength. These all prevent the possibility of a fall and each component detailed shows why this is being proven:
Tai chi promotes balance and reduces the risk of falls, according to some studies. Another factor tai chi improves is proprioception, the ability to sense stimuli arising within the body regarding its position, which decreases as we age. With tai chi, this ability is improved.
A study conducted by Stanford University in 2006 in women showed a significant boost in their upper and lower-body flexibility and muscle strength, which provides easier recovery from a stumble.
Tai chi is able to provide aerobic benefits, but that depends on the size and speed of the motion. In the Japanese study, participants were assigned a brisk walk and an improvement in their aerobic fitness measured.
A study published in 2006 by Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, researchers of Stanford University have shown the benefits of tai chi in 39 women and men, with average age of 66, below fitness level and participants with at least one cardiovascular risk. They took 36 tai chi classes within 12 weeks, and they have shown significant improvement in both upper-body strength and lower-body strength.
In summary, Tai Chi helps the elderly with establishing a better sense of balance, greater flexibility, increased muscle strength and overall aerobic fitness. All of these not only allow seniors to feel better physically, but help to prevent falls, slow down or prevent diseases from taking hold. Tai Chi is a practice that can be started gently by focusing on safe, easy movements. There are many local groups as well as youtube videos that teach seniors how to get started. As always, be sure to consult with your physician regarding how much you can do.
10 Physical Activities to Keep Seniors Moving – Besides Tai Chi, there are other forms of exercises that seniors may find interesting.