In China, it is believed that Tai Chi can delay aging and prolong life, increase flexibility, strengthen muscles and tendons, and aid in the treatment of heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, digestive disorders, skin diseases, depression, cancer, and many other illnesses. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a good deal of scientific evidence to support these claims. In a special study of tai chi called a meta-analysis, where many studies on one subject are reviewed, the author concludes that although there is some evidence to support the positive effects of tai chi on health, fitness, and balance, many of the studies are limited by small numbers of subjects and wide variation in the type and duration of tai chi used. Bearing these limitations in mind, here are some of the documented benefits.
Fear of falling and improvement in self-confidence
In an interesting twist on studies of falling, researchers found that the frequency of fear of falling was reduced from 56% to 31% in a large group of adults 70 years and older who practiced tai chi regularly. Confidence about not falling, and self-confidence in general, may be an unintended benefit of tai chi but one that is certainly worth pursuing. In a similar tai chi study of older adults, 54% of the subjects who practiced tai chi attributed their improved sense of confidence to improved balance. The authors concluded that “when mental as well as physical control is perceived to be enhanced, with a generalized sense of improvement in overall well-being, older persons’ motivation to continue exercising also increases.”
Some more reasons to practice tai chi:
– Movements are low-impact and gentle and put minimal stress on your muscles and joints.
– The risk of injury is very low.
– You can do it anywhere, anytime.
– It requires very little space (no excuses apartment dwellers!) and no special clothing or equipment.
– You do it at your own pace.
– It’s noncompetitive.
– It can be done in groups or by yourself (find a tai chi instructor to come to your workplace at lunch hour!).
– There are lots of movements to keep you interested, and as you become more accomplished you can add those to your routine.