By Michelle Fletchern
More and more seniors are becoming physically active-reaping the countless health benefits associated with regular exercise. If power walking and your run-of-the-mill strength building exercises are uninteresting, the no-impact Chinese exercise Tai Chi is an excellent way to tone muscle, increase endurance, and gain balance.
In a recent study in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, researchers concluded that the movements associated with Tai Ji helped seniors improve their physical functioning.1 Study participants who took Tai Ji twice a week for a six-month period noticed a significant improvement in their ability to accomplish daily tasks such as carrying groceries, walking up stairs, or moving medium-sized objects.
"It was concluded that the 6-month Tai Ji exercise program was effective for improving functional status in healthy, physically inactive older adults. A self-paced and self-controlled activity such as Tai Ji has the potential to be an effective, low-cost means of improving functional status in older persons."2 Most notably, those who took Tai Ji were less likely to fall-one of the largest causes of serious injury for seniors.
Tai Ji practice can reduce the inconsistency of arm movement force output by older adults. In a study performed at the University of Houston, scientists concluded that "Tai Ji practice may serve as a better real world exercise for reducing force variability in older adults' manual performance." 3
The movements of Tai Ji combine the elements of balance, toning, and aerobic exercises with slow, graceful actions. When practiced regularly, Tai Ji positively affects overall health and wellbeing. Flexibility enables seniors to reach the top shelf, while balance aids in preventing serious falls. Practitioners will also develop stronger lungs-to walk without becoming winded-and improved leg strength-to easily rise from a seated position. Because it is a no-impact exercise, Tai Ji is especially well-suited for older adults.
Tai Ji has three major components: movement, meditation, and deep breathing. All major muscle groups are utilized to articulate the gentle, slow movements of Tai Ji. Further, its movements improve strength, flexibility, coordination, and muscle tone. The exercise may help slow bone loss, and prevent osteoporosis. The meditative aspect of Tai Ji soothes the mind, reduces anxiety, enhances concentration, and lowers blood pressure. The deep breathing releases tension, enhances blood circulation to the brain, and supplies the body with fresh oxygen.
For older adults seeking an effective, no-impact exercise with a multitude of benefits, Tai Chi is an excellent choice to free the mind and energize the body.
1 Li, F., et al. "An evaluation of the effects of Tai Chi exercise on physical function among older persons: a randomized control trial." Annuals of Behavioral Medicine., 2001Spring; 23(2):139-46.
2 Li F. 145.
3 Yan, JH. "Tai Chi practice reduces movement force variability for seniors." J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 1999 Dec;54(12):M629-34.