The ancient martial art of Tai Chi has become very popular in the west in recent years. Often described as meditation in motion, it is especially popular and effective for seniors because the gentle, flowing movements can be done by almost anyone. Today, more than 200 million people practice Tai Chi daily. In China, Tai Chi is the national health exercise.
That's why The Goodman Group incorporates Tai Chi into many of its senior exercise programs. "We do it every Wednesday and it's very popular," says Ann Padovani, Director of Life Enrichment at Westchester Gardens, a health and rehabilitation center in Clearwater, Florida. "We have anywhere from 25 to 30 residents participating in it every week!"
Tai Chi emphasizes the harmony and balance of universal energies: yin and yang. That balance is the basis of Tai Chi’s value as a full body, mind, spirit workout.
A Body Workout
A “form” or “round” of Tai Chi can vary in length. Some forms are as short as 20 movements or “postures,” others as much as 150 postures. Each round, however, exercises every muscle group for strength and flexibility, two important factors of functional fitness for seniors.
Even though its movements are slow, Tai Chi is considered a cardiovascular workout. It helps circulate blood more efficiently to the organs and oxygenates the cells, all in a gentle, relaxed way.
Ann Padovani, Director of Life Enrichment at Westchester, adds: "One of the benefits of Tai Chi is that it builds strength, especially in the lower body and leg strength.It helps to relieve pain. It’s good for residents who may experience pulmonary issues as it helps their breathing and decrease blood pressure."
A Mind Workout
The slow, relaxed movements of Tai Chi relax the body while quieting the mind. As tensions are released from the body, the mind tends to follow. It becomes a form of meditation that helps practitioners let go of daily stresses and concerns. That may lead to actual physical changes, such as lowered blood pressure and heart rate. At the same time, it requires a focus of attention that can actually help improve cognitive processes.
A Spirit Workout
Tai Chi is associated with an elevated mood and a fresh outlook. Studies have shown that it can even reduce the symptoms of depression. When the body and mind are relieved of tension, the idea is that a person’s spirit is free to express itself more fully. Residents often say they experience a sense of renewed vitality, self-confidence, and peace following their Tai Chi workouts.
A Workout for Everyone
Because of its gentle, relaxed approach, Tai Chi is an excellent workout for anyone. Besides the benefits for older adults, it is readily adaptable for almost anyone. Tai Chi is routinely taught to those who have arthritis or Parkinson’s disease, are wheelchair bound, or have other restrictions.
Certified Tai Chi instructor Krisula Gause says she makes regular accommodations in her classes at Westchester Gardens. "We don't need to do hard, complicated movements to see great effects from it," she notes.
Tai Chi truly is a workout for everyone.