Exercise is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. It is one of the few lifestyle changes that can dramatically improve health, particularly for older adults. Physical activity is generally safe for everyone and has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic disease and some cancers, as well as strengthen bones and muscles and improve mental health (CDC, 2011). Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art, has been widely studied as an effective form of aerobic activity with muscle strengthening benefits. Tai Chi teaches posture, movement and strength, and may help improve quality of life for those looking to increase the amount of physical activity they get each week.

What is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi originated as a martial art in ancient China and is practiced today for the benefits associated with low impact, weight-bearing aerobic activity to ease pain and improve physical condition. It is sometimes referred to as a “moving meditation”, as practitioners are taught to move their bodies slowly, in fluid motions, while breathing deeply. Tai Chi can be practiced alone or with a group, indoors or outside, and with virtually no equipment. There are many different styles of Tai Chi, but each involve relaxed, intentional movements that flow from one position to the next. Throughout a Tai Chi session, the body remains in motion, emphasizing posture, concentration, focus and deep, but relaxed, breathing (Redwine, et al. 2011). 

Improving Arthritis and Quality of Life

Regular exercise is beneficial for children and adults and is just as beneficial for people with arthritis. Both aerobic and muscle strengthening activities are proven to reduce pain and stiffness and improve mobility, mood, and quality of life for most adults with various types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and lupus. Without worsening symptoms or severity, being physically active may even delay the onset of the disability if you currently have arthritis (CDC, 2013). Tai Chi, in particular, has been widely studied as a means of improving arthritis symptoms and physical function in patients with osteoarthritis (Yan, et al. 2013). One 12-week study found that twice-weekly sessions of Tai Chi could improve disease activity and health related quality of life for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Another study involving twice-weekly Tai Chi sessions found that participants with osteoarthritis of the knee reduced pain and improved physical function and quality of life. 

Improving Heart Health and Exercise Capacity

Regular exercise has a positive effect on many of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Moderate exercise can have a dramatic impact on cardiovascular risk, especially when combined with other lifestyle modifications, such as diet, adequate sleep, and smoking cessation. The physiological benefits of exercise that can improve heart health include an increase in exercise tolerance and reduction in body weight, blood pressure, and bad (LDL) cholesterol. It can also increase good (HDL) cholesterol and help insulin sensitivity (Myers, 2003). A systematic review of multiple clinical trials has found that Tai Chi is a good option for heart disease patients with a limited capacity for exercise. One 12-week study found that twice weekly sessions of Tai Chi improved exercise tolerance, physical performance, and quality of life for those effected with COPD, providing an easily accessible alternative to exercise.

Sarah Dalton is the founder of Able Mind Able Body, a Las Vegas based company offering motivational lifestyle coaching and personal training services.  She takes a holistic approach to healthy living, and educates others on the benefits of nutrition, exercise, and emotional health.  Visit www.ablemindablebody.com for more info.