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TAI CHI FOR SENIORS: BENEFITS AND HOW TO GET STARTED

Mya Care Blogger 04 Oct 2023
TAI CHI FOR SENIORS: BENEFITS AND HOW TO GET STARTED

Tai Chi is gaining popularity among seniors as a gentle yet potent form of exercise. This age-old technique has a wealth of psychological and physical advantages that are especially well adapted to the requirements and concerns of senior citizens.

We will discuss the advantages of Tai Chi in this blog post, why it is great for elders, and how beginners may start practicing with simple Tai Chi exercises.

What is Tai Chi?

Also known as Tai Chi Chuan or Taijiquan, Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art with a history dating back centuries. Originating in ancient China, it is an exercise often described as ‘meditation in motion’ because of its emphasis on flowing, mindful movements.

Tai Chi supports a philosophy that focuses on the integration of mind, body, and spirit, promoting a sense of balance and inner peace, unlike many other forms of exercise. It is based on the belief that change is a fundamental principle of nature that governs the laws of motion and that by embodying this principle through controlled mindful movements, one can achieve optimal well-being. The emphasis on mindfulness, gentleness, fluidity of movement, and breathing sets it apart from other exercise routines.[1]

5 Types of Tai Chi

There are 5 types of Tai Chi. While similar, each emphasizes different aspects of movement and cultivates varying types of mindfulness.[2] It is important to know the differences as not all forms of Tai Chi are suitable for seniors.

  • Yang Tai Chi. The most popular Tai Chi style practiced around the world today is very well suited to seniors. The Yang style, consistently referred to as ‘meditation in motion,’ consists of slow, graceful movements that can be easily tailored to suit an individual’s physical abilities.
  • Chen. The other Tai Chi types include Chen, Wu, Sun, and Hao. Chen is the original style that all other forms are based on and is the most martial, intensive, and aerobic type of Tai Chi. This is better for younger individuals.
  • Wu and Sun. Wu emphasizes stability, core strength, and posture, while Sun focuses more on footwork and hand movements. Either of these can be practiced by seniors who have mastered Tai Chi basics.
  • Hao is not a recommended form of Tai Chi for beginners as it requires advanced meditative concentration to practice.

Tai Chi for Seniors: An Ideal Exercise

Tai Chi is particularly well-suited for seniors for several reasons. Its gentle and accessible nature makes it a welcoming choice for people of all fitness levels. Seniors can engage in Tai Chi without the fear of straining their bodies or pushing themselves too hard. This low-impact exercise is also effective in addressing common concerns associated with aging, such as joint pain and mobility issues.[3]

Over and above, the benefits of Tai Chi for seniors extend to many other aspects of health and wellbeing, including improving balance, strength, mental clarity, and mood.

Physical Benefits[4] of Tai Chi

Tai Chi benefits people of all ages. For seniors, Tai Chi can help to tackle many issues associated with aging. Physical benefits include:

  • Tai Chi for Balance and Fall Prevention: The traditional Chinese martial art form can help seniors improve their stability, posture, balance, and coordination, reducing the risk of falls and injuries. It is also known to promote body awareness and confidence in movement, which can help seniors be more aware of their surroundings and prevent accidents.
  • Increased Flexibility and Joint Health: Through the concept of meditation in motion, Tai Chi emphasizes fluid movements and stretches that promote flexibility and joint mobility, making everyday activities easier.
  • Enhancing Muscle Strength and Endurance: Despite its gentle nature, Tai Chi incorporates effortless weight-bearing exercises that focus on shifting body weight through precise motion and creating extra resistance through enhanced focus on muscle contractions. This builds muscle strength and endurance gently over time, contributing to longevity, prolonged mobility, less frailty during old age, and overall physical well-being.
  • Tai Chi for Weight Loss and Maintenance: Tai Chi can help with weight management by raising energy expenditure and encouraging a healthier lifestyle, even though it is not a high-intensity activity.

Mental and Emotional Benefits of Tai Chi

Over and above the physical benefits, Tai Chi for seniors can help lower the impact of age-related cognitive decline and improve mental well-being. Tai Chi benefits in the following ways:

  • Stress Reduction and Relaxation: Tai Chi's meditative aspect helps reduce stress, encourages deep relaxation, and improves overall mental well-being.
  • Improved Mental Focus and Mindfulness: Practicing Tai Chi involves concentrating on movements with controlled breathing. This enhances cognitive functions, coordination and fosters mindfulness, which can be especially beneficial for seniors.
  • A Better Mood and Life Quality: Several studies reveal that in the long-term, Tai Chi for seniors can help to improve their mood, lift symptoms of depression, and enhance overall quality of life, especially if living with a disease.[5]
  • Tai Chi as a Social Activity and Community Builder: Group Tai Chi classes provide older individuals opportunities for social interaction and a sense of belonging, combating loneliness and isolation.

Tai Chi: Health Benefits for Specific Conditions

The martial art form has also shown promise in helping manage specific health conditions among seniors, such as:

  1. Mild Dementia and Age-Related Cognitive Decline: In those with mild dementia, Tai Chi may be able to improve cognitive function, memory recall, and the time it takes to perform mental tasks.[6] 
  2. Tai Chi for Parkinson's Disease[7]: The slow, controlled movements can help improve balance, coordination, and motor control in individuals with Parkinson's disease.
  3. Cardiovascular Disease Management: Overweight older adults with cardiovascular disease are shown to benefit from Tai Chi through weight reduction, maintaining better blood pressure, and improved breathing.[8] Tai chi also appears to strengthen the heart muscle and lower blood markers associated with heart stiffness.[9]
  4. Tai Chi for COPD[10] (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease): By focusing on controlled breathing, it can assist those with COPD in improving lung function and overall respiratory health.
  5. Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tai Chi can help those with arthritis by lowering pain and improving both joint mobility and muscle strength.[11]

Tai Chi Exercises for Seniors

Learning basic Tai Chi moves for seniors is a great way to get started. These exercises can be performed at your own pace, and many can be adapted for those less fit or with mobility challenges. For instance, chair Tai Chi offers a seated alternative for those who may have difficulty standing for extended periods. These are identical to the standing versions yet are performed without or with minimal leg movements.

It is best to look for videos or online courses that can help you perform the exercises, as many require learning a basic set of movements to perform them.

Each session tends to consist of warm-ups, an opening form, a series of Tai Chi exercises, and a closing form to end. The warm-ups encompass deep breathing while gently rotating each joint from head to toe. This prepares the body and mind for Tai Chi practice. The exercises themselves involve shifting one’s weight from one side of the body to the other while breathing and moving the arms gracefully to match. Each movement emulates a gentler version of a martial arts move.

Here are 7 basic Tai Chi exercises you can look up to get started:

  1. Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail
  2. Wave Hands Like Clouds
  3. Brush Knee Push
  4. Single Whip
  5. White Crane Spreads Its Wings
  6. Play Guitar
  7. Cross Hands

Tai Chi vs. Yoga for Seniors: A Comparison[12]

While both Tai Chi and Yoga offer numerous benefits, they differ in their approach, origin, and philosophy. Tai Chi focuses on slow, flowing movements with controlled breathing that embody Chinese Taoist values, while Yoga incorporates poses, stretches, and breathing exercises that emulate Indian Vedic philosophies.

Yoga can be more demanding than Tai Chi for seniors as it involves sitting cross-legged on the floor and poses that demand getting on all fours to perform. Depending on individual preferences and needs, Tai Chi may be more suitable due to its gentler nature, adaptability to all fitness levels, the ability to perform movements while sitting or standing, and emphasis on balance and coordination.

Disadvantages of Tai Chi and Precautions

There are little to no downsides to practicing Tai Chi for healthy seniors and those with conditions that do not severely impact physical mobility. Some individuals may experience mild muscle soreness initially, but this usually diminishes with regular practice.

Seniors with specific health conditions or frailty should consult with a healthcare professional before starting Tai Chi to ensure it is safe for their individual circumstances.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Tai Chi is a wonderful exercise option for seniors seeking to enhance their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It is the perfect option for people who want to stay active and raise the quality of their lives due to its mild, low-impact nature and myriad advantages. Whether you are interested in better balance, stress reduction, or simply enjoying the social aspects of group classes, Tai Chi has something to offer everyone in their golden years.

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Sources:

[1] https://www.utc.edu/arts-and-sciences/social-cultural-and-justice-studies/anthropology/wheelchair-tai-chi-chuan-program/story

[2] https://www.taichi.ca/programs/tai-chi-forms/

[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16572030/

[4] https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-benefits-of-tai-chi

[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32891966/

[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31743998/

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3285459/

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6824704/

[9] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32544110/

[10] https://www.lung.org/blog/tai-chi-and-your-lungs

[11] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20205741/

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5244011/

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