The Health Benefits of Tai Chi

The practice of tai chi is a slow-motion, low-impact exercise where the participant goes through a series of motions named after animal movements, such as “the white crane spreads both wings.” As the participant moves, he or she is instructed to breathe naturally and deeply, focusing his or her attention on the bodily sensations as he or she goes through the exercise. Tai chi is different from other forms of exercise for a few reasons. The movements should be fluid and circular without being forced, the muscles should be relaxed rather than tense, connective tissues are not stretched and the joints are never fully extended or bent. There are numerous health benefits to tai chi due to the aforementioned differences from other exercises, which is why it is an excellent choice for anyone to practice, including those who are disabled, elderly or otherwise incapable of performing other exercises. Read on to discover the health benefits of tai chi.

Tai Chi Builds Bone Density

For many who want to build bone density, such as post-menopausal women, resistance training and weight bearing exercises are often prescribed. However, most tai chi practices involve minimal weight bearing exercises and no resistance training, yet positive effects on bone health have been reported. For example, in one study conducted with 132 postmenopausal women, tai chi was found to slow down bone loss. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15129394/) Therefore, tai chi is helpful in slowing down bone density loss and keeping the bones healthier for older adults.

Tai Chi is Good for the Heart

Nineteen studies have reported that tai chi helps with cardiovascular health. Participants in the nineteen studies were mostly older adults with a mean age of 61 who had reported a sedentary lifestyle or cardiovascular disease. One of the consistent findings of the studies was that blood pressure was lowered for those who practiced tai chi which is a good indicator of heart health improvement. When compared to balance training and exercise, tai chi was still able to significantly reduce blood pressure. Other studies demonstrated that tai chi was able to provide the same results as more traditional exercise methods, but without the added stress on joints.

Tai Chi Improves Physical Function

Every individual experiences a decline in physical function as he or she ages, but tai chi is able to significantly lessen physical function decline as a result of aging. Even health-compromised individuals benefited from tai chi and improved when it came to building performance. In addition, tai chi exercises can help to build balance and physical function that can prevent falls and accidents. Sixteen tai chi studies demonstrated that individuals who practice tai chi are less afraid of falling because they have improved balance.

Tai Chi Improves Stress Levels

Stress is a major complication of modern life, but tai chi can help to reduce stress levels, as proven in several different studies. In a study conducted in 2008 with individuals infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), practicing tai chi for 90 minutes once a week for ten weeks improved stress levels. In another study conducted in 2001 with a healthy elderly population, practicing tai chi for one hour twice a week for 24 weeks lowered participants’ stress levels. Therefore, it can be concluded that tai chi is able to lower stress levels in those who are ill or otherwise healthy.

Tai Chi Improves Anxiety, Depression and Mood

Numerous studies have been conducted that prove tai chi can improve mood, including one study conducted in 2011 of 100 outpatients who had systolic heart failure and received a 12-week tai chi exercise program or a time-matched education. At conclusion, it was found that following the tai chi exercise program improved the participants’ moods. Additionally, tai chi is able to lower anxiety levels. Nine studies demonstrated significant positive effects of tai chi on anxiety.

Fourteen studies were conducted to determine if tai chi had an effect on depressive symptoms and thirteen of those studies positively identified tai chi as being a benefit to those who were depressed. In fact, due to this finding, tai chi is recommended for individuals in elderly populations who are suffering from mild depression. Practicing tai chi a few hours each week is able to prevent and treat mild depression symptoms and prevent falls, which may correlate with depression in the elderly.

Tai Chi Improves Cognitive Functioning

Several studies have been performed with tai chi involving patients who have suffered cognitive decline due to age or those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. During one study, 389 elderly participants with dementia or amnestic mild cognitive impairment were put into a tai chi group or a toning and strengthening exercise group. After five months of practice sessions conducted three times per week, both groups showed improvements in cognitive function, but only the tai chi group maintained stable clinical dementia ratings and showed improvements in visual spans.

Lastly, those who suffer from traumatic brain injuries have been shown to physically and mentally improve with the practice of tai chi. Those who suffer from traumatic brain injuries tend to suffer from self-esteem, emotional and mental complications, and tai chi has been proven to help them heal. The participants partook in a six-week tai chi course and had improved cognitive and emotional functions by the end of the trial, as well as improved mood.