The Benefits of Tai Chi

Can tai chi boost your health and wellbeing?

Tai chi is a mind-body practice that involves a series of slow, flowing exercises that combine movement, meditation, and rhythmic breathing. Although it was initially developed as a martial art, it's commonly practiced as a form of "moving meditation." According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, tai chi's movements can help stimulate the flow of vital energy (also known as "chi") and, in turn, promote healing from a variety of health conditions.

Many practitioners of tai chi use this technique to enhance physical and mental health, as well as to improve posture, balance, flexibility, and strength. In addition, tai chi is said to boost mood, alleviate pain, strengthen the immune system, and improve heart health.

Middle age people doing tai chi outdoors
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The Benefits of Tai Chi

In recent years, studies have shown that taking up tai chi may be beneficial to people with certain health conditions.

In a research review published in Canadian Family Physician in 2016, for example, researchers analyzed previously published studies and found "excellent evidence" that tai chi appears to helpful for Parkinson's disease, osteoarthritis, preventing falls, improving cognitive function in older adults, and rehabilitation for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Here's a look at several key findings from the available research on tai chi and its potential health benefits:

Cognitive Functioning

For a research review published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 2014, investigators sized up 20 previously published studies testing the effects of tai chi on cognitive function in older adults. The reviewed studies demonstrated that tai chi may have beneficial effects on cognitive function, particularly in older adults without existing cognitive impairment. The effect size in adults without cognitive impairment was large compared to no intervention and moderate when compared to exercise.

Preventing Falls in Older Adults

Tai chi may help older adults improve their balance and prevent falls, according to a research review published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society. In their analysis of 10 previously published studies, the review's authors found that tai chi practiced for 12 to 26 weeks one to three times weekly reduced the incidence of falls by 43% (compared to other interventions) in those who were followed for 12 months or less. There was no effect of tai chi on the time until an older adult first has a fall.

Parkinson's Disease

Tai chi might benefit people with Parkinson's disease, suggests a research review published in Clinical Rehabilitation in 2018. After reviewing 10 previously published studies, the authors found that tai chi significantly reduced falls in people with Parkinson's disease and stroke. Tai chi also improved balance in those with Parkinson's disease.

More Benefits

Emerging research suggests that tai chi may also help treat several other health conditions, including back pain and cancer-related fatigue.

There's also some evidence that tai chi may be an effective cardiac rehabilitation method for people with chronic heart failure.

Safety and Side Effects

While tai chi appears to be safe for most healthy people (when done correctly), it should not be used as a substitute for standard care in the treatment of a chronic health condition. Also, if you have a health condition such as arthritis, it's important to consult your doctor before starting tai chi to see if it's appropriate for you.

How to Practice Tai Chi

Tai chi is frequently taught in groups in health centers, community centers, offices, and schools. You can also learn tai chi techniques from books, as well as from audio and video resources. However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health cautions that learning tai chi from a video or book does not ensure that you're doing the movements correctly or safely.

Pronunciation: tai-chee

Also Known As: t'ai chi, tai chi chuan, tai chi chih, tai ji juan, tai ji quan, taijiquan, tai ji, taiji, shadow boxing

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