Tai Chi is renowned as a stress-buster: a way to harmonise mind, body and spirit; rebuild core mental and physical strength; and learn a strong, centred approach to life. Those busy with the daily pressures of work and home find that regular practice creates the balance, strength and robustness to enjoy the moment and relax within what seems to be an ever more complex and demanding life. Studies have found that even moderate amounts of Tai Chi practice can, amongst other things, reduce blood pressure, increase bone density, increase strength and range of motion in joints, improve immune function, improve many muscle/joint disorders, aid recovery from injury and lighten your mood.
Tai Chi can trace its origins back over thousands of years and because of this the art has figured out what is best suited to exercising our bodies. Modern science is just beginning to understand how Tai Chi can have such a substantial positive impact on the human body and mind. The key components of soft slow movement, breath and soft stretching serve to open out the body while promoting the flow of energy throughout which, releases tension (the result of stress) and allows the body and mind to work together as one. The result of this a better physical conditioning of the whole body (organs, muscles, sinews, bones etc) and calms the mind enabling it to better handle stress and make better choices in day to day life.
At first the benefits will appear as improvements to your overall physical condition, strength and balance. Then over time further benefits will come such as:
More energy and vitality
Lower stress levels and the ability to stay calm under pressure
Significant improvements in overall health
Less joint pain and easier movement
Increased focus and mental performance
Improved self esteem and confidence
“A growing body of carefully conducted research is building a compelling case for Tai Chi as an adjunct to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age,” (Peter M. Wayne, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Tai Chi and Mind-Body Research Program at Harvard Medical School’s Osher Research Center.)
The health benefits of Tai Chi have been recognised for a long time. In an article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine ( Tai chi: physiological characteristics and beneficial effects on health) the authours, J X Li, Y Hong, K M Chan reviewed 31 one studies into the effects of Tai Chi on health and concluded that Tai Chi “is a moderate intensity exercise that is beneficial to cardiorespiratory function, immune capacity, mental control, flexibility, and balance control; it improves muscle strength and reduces the risk of falls in the elderly.
Tai chi has been shown to result in general improvements in:
High Blood Pressure
Tai Chi for medical conditions
When combined with standard treatment, tai chi appears to be helpful for several medical conditions. For example:
Arthritis. In a 40-person study at Tufts University, presented in October 2008 at a meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, an hour of tai chi twice a week for 12 weeks reduced pain and improved mood and physical functioning more than standard stretching exercises in people with severe knee osteoarthritis. According to a Korean study published in December 2008 in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, eight weeks of tai chi classes followed by eight weeks of home practice significantly improved flexibility and slowed the disease process in patients with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful and debilitating inflammatory form of arthritis that affects the spine.
Low bone density. A review of six controlled studies by Dr. Wayne and other Harvard researchers indicates that tai chi may be a safe and effective way to maintain bone density in postmenopausal women. A controlled study of tai chi in women with osteopenia (diminished bone density not as severe as osteoporosis) is under way at the Osher Research Center and Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Breast cancer. Tai chi has shown potential for improving quality of life and functional capacity (the physical ability to carry out normal daily activities, such as work or exercise) in women suffering from breast cancer or the side effects of breast cancer treatment. For example, a 2008 study at the University of Rochester, published in Medicine and Sport Science, found that quality of life and functional capacity (including aerobic capacity, muscular strength, and flexibility) improved in women with breast cancer who did 12 weeks of tai chi, while declining in a control group that received only supportive therapy.
Heart disease. A 53-person study at National Taiwan University found that a year of tai chi significantly boosted exercise capacity, lowered blood pressure, and improved levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, and C-reactive protein in people at high risk for heart disease. The study, which was published in the September 2008 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found no improvement in a control group that did not practice tai chi.
Heart failure. In a 30-person pilot study at Harvard Medical School, 12 weeks of tai chi improved participants’ ability to walk and quality of life. It also reduced blood levels of B-type natriuretic protein, an indicator of heart failure. A 150-patient controlled trial is under way.
Hypertension. In a review of 26 studies in English or Chinese published in Preventive Cardiology (Spring 2008), Dr. Yeh reported that in 85% of trials, tai chi lowered blood pressure — with improvements ranging from 3 to 32 mm Hg in systolic pressure and from 2 to 18 mm Hg in diastolic pressure.
Parkinson’s disease. A 33-person pilot study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, published in Gait and Posture (October 2008), found that people with mild to moderately severe Parkinson’s disease showed improved balance, walking ability, and overall well-being after 20 tai chi sessions.
Sleep problems. In a University of California, Los Angeles, study of 112 healthy older adults with moderate sleep complaints, 16 weeks of tai chi improved the quality and duration of sleep significantly more than standard sleep education. The study was published in the July 2008 issue of the journal Sleep.
Stroke. In 136 patients who’d had a stroke at least six months earlier, 12 weeks of tai chi improved standing balance more than a general exercise program that entailed breathing, stretching, and mobilizing muscles and joints involved in sitting and walking. Findings were published in the January 2009 issue of Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair.