Flowing, graceful movements. Relaxed breathing. Lowered blood pressure. Elevated mood. Depression relief. A sense of peace. These have all been used to describe the results of tai chi, an ancient form of martial art from China. The many health benefits of tai chi make it a popular activity for seniors.
One of the best parts about tai chi is its approachability. Tai chi is appropriate for all ages, it requires no special equipment, and it can be scaled to many ability levels. Here's a rundown of the benefits of tai chi for seniors and how people of any generation can get started – even at home.
WHAT IS TAI CHI?
Tai chi is a noncompetitive martial art with origins in ancient China. Originally developed as self-defense, it's evolved into a popular form of exercise today – it's estimated that around 300 million people around the world practice tai chi.
Traditionally, tai chi emphasizes the harmony of universal energies – yin and yang – and keeping them in balance through regular physical and mental practice. That balance is the basis of tai chi’s value as a workout for the body, mind, and spirit:
Body Workout: Even though its movements are slow, tai chi is considered a cardiovascular workout because it helps circulate blood to oxygenate blood cells. A “form” or “round” of tai chi can vary in length from around 20 movements to about 150. Each round exercises every muscle group for strength and flexibility, two important factors of functional fitness for seniors.
Mind Workout: The slow-paced movements of tai chi relax the body while quieting the mind. As tension is released from the body, the mind tends to follow, helping practitioners let go of daily stresses and concerns. But it's far from mindless – it also requires a focus that can actually help improve cognitive processes.
Spiritual Workout: Tai chi is also associated with an elevated mood and a fresh outlook. Studies have shown that it can even reduce the symptoms of depression. The concept is that when the body and mind are relieved of tension, a person’s spirit is free to express itself more fully.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF TAI CHI?
For seniors, tai chi provides several physical benefits. It can build strength in the lower body, which helps with balance and preventing falls. Because it's focused on relaxing muscles and improving range of motion, it can also help relieve pain, regulate breathing, and decrease blood pressure.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD SOMEONE DO TAI CHI?
Tai chi can be practiced every day without risk of harm. For beginners, experts recommend practicing tai chi at least once or twice a week to get in the habit. Like any exercise, the more tai chi you do, the better you get at it – and the more health benefits you'll realize with time.
HOW TO GET STARTED WITH TAI CHI, WHEREVER YOU ARE
As long as you have space to move, you can do tai chi – in a senior living community, an apartment, a public park, or almost anywhere. There are many resources available online for beginners to learn tai chi, including starter poses, tips, and even follow-along video sessions.
A WORKOUT FOR EVERYONE
Because of its gentle, relaxed approach, tai chi is fantastic for seniors, but it's also an excellent workout for people of all age groups. Tai chi is routinely taught to those who have arthritis or Parkinson’s disease, are wheelchair bound, or have other mobility restrictions and limited range of motion. Don't be afraid to try tai chi, whether it's with an instructor, your community group, your family, or even solo!