Tai Chi or Taiji, is a form of Chinese martial arts. It is a popular exercise usually practiced for health, although it can be used in combat too. It helps to improve muscular strength, balance and coordination.
Tai Chi is characterized by slow flowing movements, relaxed but mindful, almost like meditation in motion.
In China, you often see people practicing Tai Chi in parks or any open spaces, individually or in group. In recent years, it has also become popular in the West as more people become interested in holistic therapy.
Tai Chi is a mind and body exercise. It is not just about physical movement, in fact, the emphasis is more on intention (意). During practice, the intention leads the body and the mind totally focuses on the actions, so that the brain is free from interference of other distractions. The meditative effect promotes self-awareness, and helps to enhance the regulatory functions of the nervous system.
Although Tai Chi can be practiced at any age, it probably suits the temperament of middle age or older people more. For the seniors, practicing Tai Chi regularly are rewarded with a number of benefits:
- Improve muscular strength and flexibility of the joints. Although a low-impact exercise, the slow movements work on a large group of muscles, accompanied by bending, turning and squatting.
- Improve balance and coordination decreases fall risk. According to published studies*, seniors who practiced Tai Chi were less likely to fall and sustained injuries than those who did not.
- Tai Chi is effective in improving balance control and flexibility for people with Parkinson’s disease.
- Tai Chi can prevent osteoporosis by reducing the rate of bone density loss.
- It is an aerobic exercise. During actions, the deep rhythmic abdominal breathing increases lung capacity and oxygenation of blood.
- It improves blood and lymphatic circulation.
- The meditative nature helps to reduce stress and improve mental health and sleep quality.
Tai Chi has been shown to have positive impact on brain health such as increasing the brain volume and slowing the progress of cognitive decline. But study in this area is quite limited.
Recently, a new research project which aims to find out whether Tai Chi benefits people with dementia has been announced. The project – The TACIT Trial: TAi ChI for people with demenTia, is led by Dr Samuel Nyman at Bournemouth University, UK.
“This is the first trial of Tai Chi with people with dementia in the UK. It is also the first trial in the world to include assessments to see how Tai Chi might help with people with dementia’s balance and help prevent them from falling,” said Dr Nyman.
You can learn Tai Chi by attending classes offered by qualified instructors. They are usually available in community centres, health clubs and fitness centres. Since no special equipment is required, once you have learned the moves, you can practice anywhere, indoor or outdoor, alone or in group.
Before starting any new exercise programme, it is wise to check with your doctor whether there is any contraindication or particular caution you should take.
* “Tai Chi for risk of falls. A meta-analysis.” Rafael Lomas-Vega, Esteban Obrero-Gaitán, Francisco Javier Molina-Ortega, and Rafael del-Pino-Casado. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society; Published Online: July 24, 2017 (DOI: 10.1111/jgs.15008).