4 Compelling Reasons to Try Tai Chi

Jodi Helmer
by Jodi Helmer
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4 Compelling Reasons to Try Tai Chi

The slow, flowing movements that make up a tai chi practice might not burn a lot of calories — research found practicing the ancient art for 45 minutes five times per week led to a mere 1 pound weight loss over 12 weeks — but there are other reasons make tai chi a regular part of your exercise routine.

Tai chi, or t’ai chi ch’üan or taijiquan, is a Chinese martial art that combines deep breathing with a series of slow, graceful movements meant to improve the flow of qi (pronounced chee), the energy that moves throughout your body.

Like yoga, tai chi is a mind/body exercise and Susanne Hempel, PhD, senior behavioral scientist at nonprofit think-tank RAND Corporation, believes the ancient art is still relevant.

“Tai chi resonates with people,” Hempel says. “People are drawn to the meditative movement, and it combines meditation and physical exercise in a very effective way. New people discover its benefits all the time.”

Here are four reasons to start practicing tai chi:

1

REDUCES FALL RISK

An estimated 40% of adults over age 65 fall every year, risking declines in mobility and quality of life, according to research published in the journal BMJ Open. Progressing through movements like one imitating a crane spreading its wings and grasping a sparrow’s tail, helps older adults improve their balance and reduce their fall risk. Researchers reviewed data from 18 studies and found tai chi was linked to a 20% lowered risk of one fall and a 31% decline in the risk of multiple falls.

Hempel also conducted a meta-analysis exploring the health benefits of tai chi. The research revealed those who practiced the ancient art had a statistically significant reduction in fall risk.

2

DECREASES HYPERTENSION

There is a lot of evidence that moderate-intensity physical activity can keep high blood pressure in check but the slow, controlled movements that are the hallmarks of tai chi can also have a positive impact on hypertension. In fact, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found older adults who practiced tai chi for 45 minutes five times per week showed significant reductions in blood pressure and waist circumference — both risk factors for heart disease.

Hempel’s 2016 research also found positive connections between tai chi and hypertension; it’s one of a growing number of health benefits associated with the traditional martial art. “We were astonished by the many different applications of tai chi,” she explains.

3

IMPROVES MENTAL HEALTH

As a mind/body practice, tai chi can have a positive impact on mental health. A 12-week practice helped significantly reduce the symptoms of mild and moderate depression, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Alexander Lin, PhD, director of the Center for Clinical Spectroscopy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, researched the psychological effects of the martial art. In his 2018 study, Lin found tai chi improved brain metabolism.

“We wanted to look at how tai chi might affect the chemicals in the brain and muscle that are important for thinking and movement,” Lin explains. “We were excited to find that … tai chi training improved their brains. Performing the various movements in tai chi not only provided exercise to the body, but also required a strong focus and thus improves the mind as well.”

4

EXTENDS LIFESPAN

If you want to live longer, take a tai chi class. The ancient practice has been linked to a longer life. Research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology followed 61,000 men and found those who practiced tai chi had a 20% lower risk of death during the seven-year study than their peers who didn’t exercise.

“Many studies are now emerging that show tai chi reduces cardiovascular risk factors … improves quality life and even extends lifespan,” Lin says. “Our findings show that tai chi can benefit both the body and can be scientifically shown to improve your health.”

Tai chi classes are offered at fitness centers, martial arts studios and community centers. To experience the benefits, look for a class near you.

About the Author

Jodi Helmer
Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer writes about health and wellness for publications like WebMD, AARP, Shape, Woman’s Day, Arthritis Today and Costco Connection among others. She often comes up with the best story ideas while hiking with her rescue dogs. You can read Jodi’s work or follow her on Twitter @helmerjodi.

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