We all want to live happier and healthier lives. That’s why we join gyms, swim, run, and watch what we eat. But aside from the more popular activities that help to keep us active and youthful, there are some that can easily fall under the radar (but which are just as effective). Tai chi, though incredibly popular in the East, is one such activity.
Developed in 13th Century China as a martial art, it offers a gentle route to physical balance and health.
And here’s a secret: practising tai chi on a regular basis can not only improve your physical health but your psychological wellbeing too.
So here’s a brief overview of some of the reasons to consider adopting this wonderful exercise into your lifestyle.
Tai chi: the martial art for everyone
Due to its incredibly low-impact nature, tai chi is suitable for almost anyone. Young or old, active or inactive. Its movements are slow and subtle, and its focus is more on balance, flexibility, and wellbeing rather than aerobic fitness or strength.
That said, tai chi could be perfect for older exercisers. Especially those who haven’t engaged in any physical activity for a long time. It could also be great for anyone who wishes to become more active but, for whatever reason, is unable to participate in more strenuous activities.
As an exercise, it’s easy-going on the joints, and very laid back in terms of physical output.
Another fantastic benefit of tai chi is its ability to improve physical balance. The slow, controlled movements performed in this activity promote stability in the core. Also, the combination of leg and arm movements help to develop and improve coordination.
One major advantage to developing better balance is the reduced risk of falling that comes with it. As a result, it can also serve to build confidence, especially in elderly participants who may be more likely to suffer from trips and falls.
As a species, we do a lot of sitting. We sit down to eat our breakfast. We sit down to drive to work. Many of us sit at desks for 8 or more hours a day. Then we come home and sit down to eat dinner and watch TV. But research is now revealing the alarming and potentially catastrophic health risks associated with prolonged sitting.
Of the many negative side effects, one is bad posture. And a remedy for bad posture is tai chi.
Tai chi is heavily focussed on stance and movement. And in order to perform the movements correctly, you must first adopt the proper stance and hold the correct posture. So over time, practising tai chi may not only help to combat the negative effects of sitting, but may also improve your general posture. Also, tai chi can have you up and moving for an hour or two when you might otherwise have been at home sitting down.
Stress is a major issue in the modern world. And though it affects people throughout the world, it’s estimated that nearly half of British people suffer from long-term stress. We live faster, busier, more hectic lives today than ever before. And engaging in exercise to reduce stress and promote physiological harmony should be a top priority for all of us.
A popular reason for practising tai chi is its inherent stress-reducing qualities. Its mellow nature, along with the required deep breathing and rhythmic movements, can induce feelings of relaxation and wellbeing. In some ways, it can be seen as a moving form of meditation.
This makes tai chi a perfect candidate for a post-work de-stressing ritual. It provides a drastic shift in pace, encouraging us to go slow and be mindful of ourselves.
In an article from Harvard Medical School, tai chi can improve both lower- and upper-body strength. And if practised on a regular basis, “tai chi can be comparable to resistance training and brisk walking”.
The unsupported arm movements involved in tai chi postures help to strengthen the arms, and the forms in general can build core and lower-body strength.
According to a study by researchers at the Tufts School of Medicine, tai chi can produce the same benefits as physical therapy for people suffering from knee osteoarthritis. The average participant was 60 years old, and many were obese. The patients were randomly assigned to two different groups. One group would practise tai chi twice a week for twelve weeks; and the other would undergo physical therapy twice a week for six weeks, and then do six weeks of exercise at home. At the end of the 12 weeks both groups reported “equal improvement in pain and related health outcomes”.
So, if it sounds like your kind of activity, or if you’re just curious to learn more, why not follow along with one of these 8 tai chi and qi gong routines with our very own Sifu Paul Nathan.