As a low impact exercise exerting little pressure on bones and joints, Tai Chi is a great exercise regime for anyone – regardless of age, ability or fitness levels. Tai Chi originated in 13th century China where it was developed as a martial art. Indeed, it is still practised as such. For today, however, we exploring its gentler side, renowned for the health benefits it brings.
Tai Chi is inherently a unique fusion of mind and body techniques, combining slow, gracious and continuous movements with deep breathing and relaxation. As a health promoting exercise, it is now practised worldwide.
Because it can be adapted for anyone, you don’t need to be in tiptop shape to get started. In fact, Tai Chi is ideal for anyone: from the fittest athlete to someone recovering from surgery or even confined to a wheelchair.
Let’s look now at some of the benefits that go with learning this art.
Benefits of Tai Chi for Over 50’s
With its remarkable propensity to improve both upper and lower body strength, regular practice of Tai Chi is considered capable of reaping the same benefits for the practitioner as brisk walking or a stringent resistance training routine. As an exercise regime it poses little risk of injury as it its gentle, flowing movements are unlikely to exert stress on muscles and joints. It is not only very safe but you don’t need fancy equipment to get started either: any loose and comfortable clothing that does not restrict movement will do.
There is evidence to suggest that regular practice of Tai Chi can improve posture, flexibility, balance, stability, general mobility and muscular strength, particularly in the legs. It is also thought to reduce stress levels too.
Improved mobility, balance and strengthened joints bring innumerable benefits, not least a reduced susceptibility to falls as we get older.
And general improved muscle strength and mobility can of course make it easier to recover should a fall occur.
For those suffering from arthritis, particularly rheumatoid arthritis, there is evidence to suggest Tai Chi can help because of the enhanced mobility in ankle, hip and knee joints that comes with regular practice. Additionally, improved core strength can reduce back pain in chronic sufferers.
These are just some of the benefits to be gained from practising Tai Chi all of which make for general improved health and ensuant improved quality of life.
So, let’s look at how to get started and a few sample exercises to try out at home.
Getting Started with Tai Chi
With Tai Chi a worldwide exercise phenomenon, there are innumerable books, DVDs and YouTube clips to get you started. That said, in order to perform Tai Chi safely, correctly and effectively, it is best to attend a class in the first instance to learn the basics from a qualified instructor. Any search engine will come up with a number of options for Tai Chi classes near you. Many classes offer free taster sessions or the opportunity to observe from the side to ascertain whether it really is for you. As with any new exercise regime, do however consult your doctor first if you have any underlying health condition going on and remember that Tai Chi instructors have no medical qualifications.
Whatever your reasons for exploring Tai Chi, the first place to start is the basics. Tai Chi can be a complex exercise and martial art form for the seasoned practitioner, but for the beginner exercises are simple and not overly strenuous. We’ve pulled together a few below to give you a bit of a taster as to what to expect and the areas they are designed to target and improve.
Basic Tai Chi Movements
By targeting knee and spine mobility, this exercise will improve general balance and reduce the risk of falls.
Position yourself with your knees slightly bent and weight evenly distributed across both feet. Place your hands on your knees with fingers pointing towards each other. Now gently and simultaneously slowly rotate your knees in a circle both in the same direction. Do this 10 times clockwise and then repeat anti-clockwise.
This exercise stretches lower back and improves core strength thus alleviating future back pain.
Place one foot long in front of the other with both feet facing forward and your knees bent. Allow your arms to hang loosely by your sides.
Now inhale deeply as you slowly raise your hands above your head until your arms are fully extended upwards with your fingers pointing towards the sky. Exhale slowly as you return to your starting position, feeling your spine relax as you do so. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
Golden Rooster Stands On One Leg
We just had to include this one, if only for its name! It’s a great exercise for reducing knee pain as it relieves pressure on joints by improving balance and lower body strength.
To perform this exercise, start in a comfortable standing position. Now slowly raise one leg, bending at the knee – – it may be helpful for balance if you lift your arms to a running position as you do so. Hold this stance for as long as you are comfortable before lowering your foot and repeating with the other leg 5 to 10 times in total.
We all know how tightness in our shoulders and upper back can be a huge contributory factor to chronic neck pain. This exercise is designed to improve shoulder flexibility and open up the spine thus relieving neck and shoulder tension.
Stand with your feet facing forwards, slightly wide of your shoulders, and your arms hanging loosely by your sides. Raise your hands in front of your tummy button, fingers pointed down. Inhale deeply as you slowly lift your hands straight up through the centre of your body to above your head with fingers pointed up towards the sky. Stretch your body upwards until your spine is slightly arched. Hold, then exhale as you slowly bend forward and lower your hands toward the ground. Bend slightly at the knees and hips, allowing your arms to dangle and stretch your spine as far as is comfortable. Inhale and return to the starting position. Perform 5 – 10 times.
Give Tai Chi a Go
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and that it’s given you some pointers as to how and why to get started. Whether you join a Tai Chi class near you, or give it at a go at home, it’s well worth exploring and may be the exercise routine you’ve been searching for all along!