Tai chi is an ancient Chinese movement practice that offers a number of health benefits. For seniors in particular, it can have significant benefits. That’s because it focuses on muscle control, stability, balance, and flexibility. The movements are also very gentle.
If that doesn’t get you interested, consider that it’s all about chi (more traditionally spelled qi and pronounced “chee”). Chi translates to “life energy.” What older person wouldn't like more energy?
Regular practice of tai chi can significantly reduce the risk of falls among older adults. A 2017 review published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society found that tai chi reduced falls by up to 50 percent.
The movements listed below are a nice introduction to tai chi. Performed regularly, they may help increase balance and stability. The poses in this routine can also be done in a chair. But it’s better to do them standing if you are able. For support, you can always hold onto a chair.
This warmup will help improve balance and work your leg muscles.
- Stand with your legs slightly wider than hip-distance apart, with a slight bend in your knees. Slowly get used to shifting your weight from left to right. Your arms can be resting at your side; your hands can be on your hips.
- You can also rest your hands on a chair back for support.
- Slowly and with control, shift your weight onto one leg, supporting about 70 percent of your weight on that leg. Then switch to the other leg.
- Repeat at least 3 times.
After you’ve done the leg warmup a few times, do some torso twists.
- For this movement, put your hands on your hips to help you feel how much you are turning — you don’t want to be turning from the hips. Rather, you want to turn from the torso.
- Take a deep inhale and feel your spine grow longer. As you exhale, gently twist just your torso. Your hips will naturally move with your torso a little, but this is a twist for your spine. Your knees should stay above your ankles.
- They should stay equally bent. This is very subtle, but the small movements actually work your core. This increases your core stability.
- Let your breath guide how fast you move here. Twist at least five times to both sides.
This is a wonderful movement for digestion, respiration, and stretching your abdominal region. This will help with core stability. It also strengthens and stretches the back.
- Standing in the same neutral position as the warmup, step your left foot to hip-distance apart (feet can be closer if you’re comfortable with it), with your hands resting at your sides.
- Bring your hands together in front of your face, palms facing down, your fingertips pointing in toward each other, and your arms as straight as you can comfortably get them.
- Look at your hands and continue to do so as you breathe in gently and begin to push your arms straight out in front of you, then up, until they are above your head.
- As you exhale, bring your arms straight down and to your sides.
- Repeat at least 5 times.
This opens the chest and lungs, stimulating the heart and circulation. It also helps build strength in the arms, shoulders, chest, and legs.
- Step out with your right foot, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Look to the right with your head and torso, like the gentle twist from before.
- Make your hands into loose fists, and inhale as you lift both arms to chest height out to your right. Your right arm will, of course, reach a bit farther than your left, since you are turned.
- As you exhale, pull your left elbow back, lift your right thumb and forefinger to the sky (pointing up), and bend your knees, squatting as deeply as you comfortably can.
- Look beyond the backward “L” you are creating with your right hand. Inhale here, and exhale as you release your hands down, straighten your legs, and ease back to neutral.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Repeat this at least 3 times on each side.
This is a great shoulder stretch. It helps energy flow through the joints and increases circulation to your organs. It also stimulates and stretches the front side of the body.
- After Drawing the Bow, step your left foot back in. Your feet should be hip-distance apart. Rest your hands to your sides.
- As you inhale, lift both hands, palms up, fingertips pointing in toward each other, to chest height. When you get there, relax and exhale briefly.
- As you inhale, send your right-hand palm up, above your head. Send your left-hand palm down, back to your pelvis.
- As you exhale, pull them back to meet, keeping them in the midline of your body. As you inhale, switch the movement, your left hand rising and your right hand lowering.
- Repeat this movement at least 8 times as you breathe slowly with control.
Practicing these three simple tai chi movements several times a week can offer a host of significant health benefits, especially for seniors. As always, check with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine.