Why Tai Chi is So Good for Seniors

Updated: Jan 18



Tai Chi and Qi Gong are two extremely popular exercise methods originating from China. Both offer a plethora of benefits for practitioners, offering a low-impact exercise that nearly anyone can complete. Being open to people of any fitness levels, Tai Chi and Qi Gong can offer an exercise program that delivers a gentle but effective full-body workout or a plan for a specific part of the body. Read on to learn more about Tai Chi, how it’s different from Qi Gong, and the benefits of a well-rounded Tai Chi program that anyone can receive.


What is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi originated in China hundreds of years ago. Based on users flowing through certain movements, Tai Chi has evolved from a martial arts training program to a fitness and wellness regimen for people around the world. Most people love the program’s focus on meditation and slow, gentle movements usually performed while standing (however, seated programs exist as well). Practitioners at any fitness level can start a Tai Chi program, receiving an assortment of health benefits as they perfect their practice.


How are Tai Chi and Qi Gong Different?

Tai Chi and Qi Gong are closely related; however, there are a few differences. Qi Gong (pronounced chi gong) are movements directed towards one part of the body. For example, someone focusing on lung work will use certain Qi Gong movements to reach their goals. Tai Chi is a series of movements, usually working on the entire body. While Tai Chi frequently includes Qi Gong movements, Qi Gong does not necessarily include Tai Chi movements. For a more thorough and tailored Tai Chi program, practitioners should look to include specific Qi Gong movements in their regimen to reach their fitness levels.



Benefits

Tai Chi offers a plethora of benefits for practitioners, ranging from increased balance and stability to reducing their stress levels. Like every exercise program, users should practice Tai Chi on a regular basis to get the full benefits of their program, usually 3-5 times a week. If someone doesn’t have time to complete a full Tai Chi workout, they can utilize Qi Gong movements on specific areas of the body they feel need more improvement. Continue reading to learn about a handful of the benefits offered by Tai Chi for seniors.


Balance and Stability

Seniors can increase their balance and stability by practicing Tai Chi, including those with Parkinson’s Disease. In fact, a 2018 study found that seniors with Parkinson’s improved their maximum excursion as well as reduced their chances of falling. Furthermore, seniors who practice Tai Chi and don’t have Parkinson’s Disease can decrease their chance of a fall by up to 45%. How is this accomplished? The slow, flowing movements required by the program force practitioners to move deliberately. This reduces the risk of injury, with seniors not needing to worry about completing fast, jerking movements that can throw anyone of any age off balance.


Low-Impact

As people get older, it can be difficult to complete an exercise program. High-impact exercise like jogging or running can cause adverse health effects on joints and muscles, including permanent disability. This can be devastating, especially for those who are used to exercising regularly. Low-impact exercises allow users to burn calories and stay healthy without putting pressure on the joints and muscles. Tai Chi allows users to get a full-body workout without worrying about causing injury. The slow, deliberate movements facilitate practitioners working out to their body’s limits, greatly reducing the risk of injury.


Flexibility

Improved flexibility, just like low-impact exercise and improved balance, greatly reduces the chance of serious injury, and Tai Chi more than delivers flexibility benefits. Multiple studies have found that Tai Chi improves flexibility, including this one that also saw an improvement in handgrip strength and balance. Improving balance not only prevents injury, but it also decreases chronic pain as well as improving performance. These benefits allow users to live a more fulfilling life.


However, flexibility isn’t limited to the body either. A 2012 study found that practitioners’ arterial flexibility (how much the arteries contract as blood pressure changes) is improved with Tai Chi as well. This may not seem like much; however, this improvement in circulation improves health as well as preventing that burning, out of breath feeling many experience in their day-to-day lives.


Reduce Stress

Tai Chi is frequently described by practitioners as a relaxing experience, with many saying they feel more relaxed both during and after their workout. While this may seem like a placebo effect, researchers have found those who practice the exercise method actually reduce their stress and anxiety levels due to the focus required to complete the required movements. Those with lower stress levels are able to live longer, healthier lives, reduce their chances of serious health conditions like heart disease and are much happier than those with higher stress levels.


Improve Health Issues

Pre-existing conditions like fibromyalgia and arthritis can cause debilitating pain; however, Tai Chi can improve sufferers’ lives. A 2018 study found that practitioners were able to better control their fibromyalgia pain than those who practice other forms of aerobic exercise. Furthermore, those with rheumatoid arthritis also noticed a marked difference in their symptoms as well. Finally, seniors with cognitive impairment and poor nighttime sleep quality were able to improve their quality of life when practicing Tai-Chi as well.


Muscle Strength

Tai Chi allows users to improve their muscle strength, delivering a powerful workout. While we can’t make the claim anyone is going to become ripped simply from adding Tai Chi to their workout program, users can expect an increase in their muscle strength as well as a more toned appearance. These benefits are due to the flowing, bodyweight-based movements that Tai Chi relies upon. As users get deeper into their practice, they’ll notice a stark increase in flexibility, as well as their strength as the muscles, are forced to work with more resistance.


Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise is integral for people of all ages, especially seniors. As humans get older, they tend to see a decrease in their circulation, range of movement and a lowering of the metabolism. This can cause weight gain many have never experienced before, even if they were relatively active when younger. Tai Chi allows practitioners to receive the same calorie burn they’d expect from a brisk walk, without worrying about falling or injury. When practiced regularly, users can expect to lose weight as well as improve their circulation and metabolism, allowing a longer, healthier, active life they didn’t think they could experience again.


Getting Started with a Tai Chi Program

Speak to Your Doctor

As with all fitness programs, traditional Tai Chi might not be right for everyone. While it can be tempting to dive right into a program, anyone considering starting a new fitness venture should speak to their doctor. While it’s unlikely a doctor will outright ban the program, they may be able to recommend a seated alternative or give user’s advice on symptoms to be aware of when completing a program, such as dizziness or lightheadedness.


Talk to an Instructor

After getting the okay from a doctor, users should consider speaking to an instructor. Many will allow people to come to their first class for free, or watch a class to see if their teaching style is right for them. It’s important to remember that there are no set guidelines for Tai Chi instructors, and not everyone will mesh well with every instructor. If a class doesn’t seem like a great fit, look for another teacher in the area.


Learn the Language

Like other programs, Tai Chi comes with its own language. From movement names to certain mantras, each form of Tai Chi has its own language that users learn as they practice the exercise. While this can feel intimidating at first, most people are surprised by how much they learn after a couple of classes.


Dress Comfortably

Tai Chi is all about having a full range of movement, and it’s integral that practitioners dress comfortably. This isn’t the time to pull out that restricting top or size-too-small pants. Instead, users should wear loose-fitting clothing and comfortable shoes (although, more and more instructors are opting for barefoot students).


Enjoy Your Progress

As practitioners work through their program, they’ll quickly begin to notice results; however, sometimes these results take longer than expected. Users should look to practice Tai Chi several times a week for 12 weeks to decide if they like the program and take note of any changes in their bodies.


Ready to start your Tai Chi program? Fitscope offers online studio classes for Tai Chi, cycling, strength training, HIIT workouts, ellipticals, rowing machines, air bikes and treadmills to allow seniors to vary their workouts while obtaining maximum benefits. You’ll get the body of your dreams quicker than ever while being guided by fitness professionals who know how to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter what age you are. Click here to learn more and receive a free one-week trial.

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