If you have arthritis, tai chi may be a great low impact exercise option. We examined the benefits, one by one.

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Physical activity can be difficult for people with arthritis, especially high intensity exercise.

Fortunately, a martial arts movement practice known as tai chi has grown in popularity as a safe and effective exercise for people with arthritis.

If you’re not familiar with tai chi, it can be intimidating to start practicing it. Also, you may be curious to know whether it will help improve your arthritis symptoms.

To help, this article tells you all you need to know about tai chi and its potential benefits for people with arthritis.

Tai chi is an ancient martial arts practice that involves gentle, flowing movement, meditation, and controlled breathing. It’s also known as tai chi chuan, tai chi quan, and taiji.

It originated in China as a healing practice and has similar practices to qi gong, another form of healing therapy commonly practiced in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

According to TCM, poor health is the result of blocked energy, or “qi” (pronounced “chee”). To improve energy flow, gentle movement practices, such as tai chi and qi gong, are often recommended.

Tai chi also involves a combination of gentle movements and postures, which may help increase strength, coordination, and balance. Furthermore, controlled breathing is at the forefront of tai chi, which can help you achieve a calmer, meditative state.

Though tai chi has been around for hundreds of years, it has grown in popularity recently for its health benefits.

In particular, tai chi is popular among people who are looking for lower impact forms of exercise.

Here are some potential benefits of tai chi for people with arthritis:

1. May reduce arthritis pain

Tai chi has grown in popularity as a low impact exercise for people with arthritis.

In fact, in their 2019 guidelines, the American College of Rheumatology and the Arthritis Foundation strongly recommended tai chi for people with knee or hip osteoarthritis.

These recommendations were based on many research studies that have shown a reduction in arthritis pain after practicing tai chi.

For example, a 2021 review of 16 studies showed that practicing tai chi led to significant reductions in osteoarthritis pain and stiffness along with improvements in physical function.

A 2022 review of eight studies found similar results, especially when tai chi was practiced for longer than 5 weeks.

2. Helps improve strength and balance

Despite its slow, low impact movements, tai chi may help improve strength and balance.

Tai chi involves slow, controlled shifts in body weight and changes in posture. This allows you greater control and mind-body connection.

In fact, a 2021 review of 31 studies showed that postural balance significantly improved after practicing tai chi. What’s more, handgrip strength — a predictor of overall strength and function — also significantly improved.

Another 2020 review with 603 older adults with knee osteoarthritis observed significant improvements in walking function and posture control after practicing tai chi. Researchers suggested improvements in strength and balance led to these positive effects.

Also, a 12-week 2022 study with 40 older women with osteoarthritis split participants into either a tai chi group (three times per week) or a control group. At the end of the study, the tai chi group had significant improvements in balance, physical function, and quality of life.

Overall, it appears that tai chi may at least moderately improve strength, balance, and function in people with arthritis.

3. May lower stress and anxiety

Chronic diseases can be stressful and lead to anxiety for many people, including those with arthritis.

Tai chi involves slow, physical movements paired with controlled, meditative breathing, which has been shown to lower stress and symptoms of anxiety.

It achieves this by regulating the body’s stress-response system, which includes the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. It also activates the body’s “rest and digest” system, called the parasympathetic nervous system.

Interestingly, a 2018 study with 50 healthy but stressed participants found that 12 weeks of tai chi led to significant reductions in stress and anxiety. No improvements were seen in the control group.

Another 2018 review found that tai chi reduced symptoms of major depressive disorder and anxiety.

While higher quality studies are certainly needed, tai chi may be a cost-effective adjunctive treatment for stress and anxiety.

4. Low impact

Low impact exercise is often recommended for people with painful conditions, such as arthritis.

Tai chi is one of many forms of low impact exercise that puts less pressure on the muscles, bones, and joints.

So, if you’re looking to stay active but wish to avoid higher impact exercises, tai chi can be an excellent option.

5. Suitable for all age groups

People of all age groups can practice tai chi, including children and older adults.

In fact, tai chi can be a great way to involve your entire family in physical activity.

Also, similar to yoga, tai chi movements can be modified for people with various health conditions and fitness levels, making it a great option for everyone.

Tai chi modifications may be needed for people who have limited mobility, pain, poor balance, or other physical limitations.

Fortunately, there are many forms of tai chi you can practice. Most movements can be modified as needed.

If you’re unsure, it’s best to visit a tai chi class or watch instructional videos online. Over time, you’ll learn which movements work best for you and whether you need modifications.

Tai chi is an ancient martial art that has many health benefits.

For people with arthritis, tai chi may help reduce pain, anxiety, and stress while also strengthening your muscles and improving your balance. It’s also widely accessible, low impact, and suitable for all age groups, making it an excellent form of exercise.

If you’re new to tai chi, you may benefit from visiting a tai chi class or following an online tai chi class or video. If needed, you can modify the movements based on your physical fitness and pain.

Though it may be intimidating at first, adding tai chi to your exercise routine can provide many positive benefits to your health and well-being.