The health and wellbeing benefits of tai chi have been acknowledged over the centuries. The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi is where I refer people to, who appear to have a need to understand the benefits of tai chi and qigong from a scientific perspective. For myself, I try to listen to my body and feel the benefits. But each to their own. In a nutshell, the physical benefits are summarised here. But that’s only part of the story – the emotional and psychological effects vary from person to person. Feedback from weekly classes, and from our WoW retreats in Mallorca often include the following: “I feel more relaxed – less stressed – more alert – more aware of my body and how I move/hold myself – less anxious – sleeping better – less depressed – feel “grounded” – physically tired, in a good way – better able to concentrate – feel accomplished – enjoy life more – have fun!”
No pain, big gains
Although tai chi is slow and gentle and doesn’t leave you breathless, it addresses the key components of fitness — muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and, to a lesser degree, aerobic conditioning. Here’s some of the evidence:
Muscle strength. Tai chi can improve both lower-body strength and upper-body strength. When practiced regularly, tai chi can be comparable to resistance training and brisk walking.
“Although you aren’t working with weights or resistance bands, the unsupported arm exercise involved in tai chi strengthens your upper body,” says 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.”
Flexibility. Tai chi can boost upper- and lower-body flexibility as well as strength.
Balance. Tai chi improves balance and, according to some studies, reduces falls. Proprioception — the ability to sense the position of one’s body in space — declines with age. Tai chi helps train this sense, which is a function of sensory neurons in the inner ear and stretch receptors in the muscles and ligaments. Tai chi also improves muscle strength and flexibility, which makes it easier to recover from a stumble. Fear of falling can make you more likely to fall; some studies have found that tai chi training helps reduce that fear.
Aerobic conditioning. Depending on the speed and size of the movements, tai chi can provide some aerobic benefits. If your clinician advises a more intense cardio workout with a higher heart rate than tai chi can offer, you may need something more aerobic as well.
Come and join us on our 12th Annual WoW Week of Wellness on October 27th and see what tai chi does for you! And if you already play with tai chi, let us know how it makes you feel, and leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you.