Tai chi: for seniors, this Chinese exercise could be just what the doctor ordered

It improves balance and agility, along with stamina and muscular strength.

Janet Cranston Fit for Life
Janet Cranston
Fit for Life

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition practiced as a graceful form of exercise. It involves a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner accompanied by deep breathing. Each posture flows into the next without pause, ensuring that your body is in constant motion. It is often described as meditation in motion.

There are many different styles of tai chi. Some styles may focus on health maintenance, while others focus on the martial arts aspect of the exercise.

Tai chi is a a great pick-me-up for all ages.
Tai chi is a a great pick-me-up for all ages.

Tai chi is good for everyone. It is low impact and puts minimal stress on your muscles and joints. Once you learn how to practice, tai chi can be done anywhere, including indoors and outside, alone or in a group. It is inexpensive and requires no special equipment.

Tai chi is especially good for seniors and can have positive health effects. It improves stamina, muscular strength and flexibility. As we age, this means maintaining our independence and being able to do the things that we enjoy.

People that do tai chi on a regular basis also notice an improvement in balance and agility. The importance of this cannot be overstated. The number one reason that a senior is hospitalized is a result of a fall and approximately 50 per cent of those that are hospitalized do not recover fully.

Tai chi has also been shown to improve mood and decrease stress, anxiety and depression.

Research has shown that tai chi helps as well to enhance sleep and the immune system, lower blood pressure, improve joint pain, improve symptoms of congestive heart failure and improve overall well-being.

While you may gain some benefit from a tai chi class that lasts 12 weeks or less, you may enjoy greater benefits if you continue tai chi for the long term and become more skilled. Check with your healthcare provider before beginning tai chi, but chances are you’ll be encouraged to give it a try.

Janet Cranston is director of health and fitness at the Reh-Fit Centre.

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