Hear “tai chi” and you immediately think of people moving fluidly and effortlessly in an almost meditative state. But there’s more to tai chi than meets the eye. Tai chi makes efficient use of your body’s physical and mental energy to create an alert yet relaxed state of mind. It also doubles up as exercise for your body.1 Here’s why you should consider adding it to your fitness and wellness regimen.
1. Counts As Resistance And Aerobic Exercise – But With A Difference
In case you’re writing off tai chi as too gentle to burn any calories, let’s put it in perspective. The average 125-pound person can burn 120 calories doing tai chi in every 30-minute session. A 185-pound person can burn as much as 178 calories in that time. That’s comparable to what you burn with gymnastics, water aerobics, horse riding, and walking at 3.5 mph. In other words, it won’t be a miracle weight-loss remedy, but it can keep you physically active and burn calories too.2
If you increase the intensity, you can make it the aerobic equivalent of a brisk walk and work as a resistance exercise such as vigorous weight training as well.3
But that’s where the similarity ends with these other exercise forms. Unlike aerobic exercise where you need to tense your muscles and push them harder, with tai chi your movements will be effortless and flowing.4 Tai chi also relies on fluid movements that segue into the next without any visible pause or interruption, unlike other forms of exercise like an aerobic workout.
2. Is A Low-Impact Exercise For The Elderly And A Good Workout For The Young And Fit
Tai chi hinges on getting you to move your body optimally and efficiently, thereby reducing chances of physical injury.5 An uncomplicated low-impact and low-tech exercise, it doesn’t need fancy equipment or complicated maneuvers. It can even be picked up by seniors, working beneficially for them in many ways:
- It can help the elderly keep up their range of movement, stay active, and prevent disability.
- It improves balance and reduces the risk of falling.
- It helps improve functional mobility, strength, and flexibility.
- It creates a sense of psychological well-being and supports better sleep.
- It may even help boost cardiac function.
There are potential benefits for young adults and middle-aged individuals too. Tai chi can work well for the physically fit and agile, especially when you choose styles that are more rigorous or physically demanding. For instance, the chen style requires more force and internal power and incorporates far more kicks, punches, and even jumps.6
3. Offers Functional Training With Slow, Continuous, Graceful Movements
Tai chi doubles up as functional training, helping you replicate or mimic movements that are typical of your daily activities. As the American Council on Exercise explains, a lot of the movements of tai chi involve balancing or standing in much the way you would while going about your usual daily activities. You will practice things you do unconsciously on a regular basis – like transferring your weight through your gait.
There will also be other movements that prove more challenging. These may test your balance and flexibility as well as range of motion and make you more adept at tasks you may have had trouble with earlier – like reaching for something on a high shelf without losing your balance or squatting to pick up something you dropped.
You will need a strong core and abdominal muscles to achieve a lot of the standing choreography.7 But it helps that movements in tai chi are graceful, continuous, and slow, putting minimal strain on your muscles and joints. Most movements end with a squat style position with bent knees.8
4. Builds Muscle Strength And Flexibility To Fight Spondylitis, Fibromyalgia, And Scleroderma
Tai chi helps build your muscle strength so that the muscles can better support your joints and keep them protected, enabling normal function. As your flexibility improves, you should also be able to move easier than before and heal your body through improved circulation of blood and body fluid.
These effects make tai chi therapeutic for people with conditions marked by physical impairment and stiffness of joints. So if you have spondylitis, scleroderma, or fibromyalgia, consider tai chi to ease stiffness and help physical function.9 Early research also shows tai chi’s potential for helping those with bone loss and immune disorders.10
5. Improves Quality Of Life And Physical Function For Those With Arthritis
Tai chi has proven especially useful to those with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. As one piece of research of seniors with osteoarthritis found, the participants who practiced tai chi saw significant improvements in not just their physical functioning but also their social functioning, impacting their overall quality of life positively.11
In fact, there’s even a special sun tai chi style routine designed for those with arthritis. Called the “Tai Chi for Arthritis” program, it could help relieve arthritic pain and improve your balance and quality of life. It may even help you avoid falls altogether. It comprises a warm-up, qigong, 12 sun tai chi movements, and a wind-down. You can find out about the nearest practitioner who conducts this program via the Arthritis Foundation USA if you are in the United States, the Arthritis Care in the UK, or the Arthritis Foundations of Australia and Singapore if you’re in that part of the world.12
6. Has A Range Of Psychological Benefits
Tai chi has mental health benefits you may not even realize. It can improve your psychological well-being, ease depression and anxiety symptoms, lower stress levels, and improve your mood.13 It could even help you sleep better so you wake up refreshed, as studies among older adults suffering from sleep disturbances revealed.14
If you’re convinced tai chi is something you’d like to try, here are some tips to help you get started with tai chi.
|↑1, ↑5||About Tai Chi. Tai Chi Health.|
|↑2||Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑3||Try tai chi to improve balance, avoid falls. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑4||Easing Ills through Tai Chi. Harvard Magazine.|
|↑6||Comparing Chen and Sun Styles. Tai Chi For Health Institute.|
|↑7||What exactly is Tai Chi and what are some of its benefits?. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑8||A guide to tai chi. National Health Service.|
|↑9, ↑12||Tai Chi for Arthritis. National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society.|
|↑10||Kuramoto, Alice M. “Therapeutic benefits of Tai Chi exercise: research review.” WMJ-MADISON- 105, no. 7 (2006): 42.|
|↑11||Chen, Ching-Huey, Miaofen Yen, Susan Fetzer, Li-Hua Lo, and Paul Lam. “The effects of tai chi exercise on elders with osteoarthritis: a longitudinal study.” Asian Nursing Research 2, no. 4 (2008): 235-241.|
|↑13||Wang, Chenchen, Raveendhara Bannuru, Judith Ramel, Bruce Kupelnick, Tammy Scott, and Christopher H. Schmid. “Tai Chi on psychological well-being: systematic review and meta-analysis.” BMC complementary and alternative medicine 10, no. 1 (2010): 1.|
|↑14||Li, Fuzhong, K. John Fisher, Peter Harmer, Dainis Irbe, Robert G. Tearse, and Cheryl Weimer. “Tai Chi and self‐rated quality of sleep and daytime sleepiness in older adults: a randomized controlled trial.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 52, no. 6 (2004): 892-900.|