What are the Tai Chi Benefits for Seniors?

By Craig Nagy [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Where ever you travel in the Far East you’re likely to see images similar to this. Groups of people gathered in open spaces going through what looks like a slow motion dance routine. Look even closer and you’ll probably see that most of the participants are ‘mature’ adults. What is this strange art they are practising and why is it so popular amongst the older generation?

The movements are from the ancient Chinese practise of Tai Chi Chuan, most often referred to simply as Tai Chi (‘tie-chee’). They consist of slow, fluid movements performed with concentration and focus, thus allowing practitioners to fully exercise the mind as well as the body. It is Tai Chi’s focus on mental health, physical fitness, and general well-being that make it such an excellent activity for seniors seeking to maintain functional fitness levels and a positive mental outlook.

By Sigismund von Dobschütz [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Revitalising Stiff Joints

The low impact nature of the exercise makes it kind on the joints, a key benefit for seniors. I only fully appreciated this particular benefit of Tai Chi in my early fifties; after thirty years of teaching traditional Japanese martial arts my joints were suffering badly to say the least. Getting out of bed in the morning was not a pretty site as I gingerly coerced my stiff and sore joints slowly into life!

A drastic decision had to be made. I abandoned my former training in favour of Tai Chi, an art that I had dabbled with as a much younger man. Within a very short period of time my joints started to regain some of their former spring and suppleness and I have continued to maintain this improvement since.

One of the great things about Tai Chi is that it requires no specialist equipment and can be done in a minimal amount of space. Traditionally they say that Tai Chi can be practised in the space that an oxen would take up if it was lying down – about the same footprint as a three seater sofa or couch. These characteristics make this form of exercise especially accessible to seniors; they can learn the forms and transitions in a class and practise at home whenever they wish.

By Daniel Case [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tai Chi Practise – A Shared Activity

Although Tai Chi is essentially a solo exercise, we can see from the photographs that it is usually practised in a group setting. Learning Tai Chi therefore serves another really important function for many senior citizens – allowing people to socialise and bond together in a shared activity.

Because there is no sense of competition in Tai Chi, everyone develops their own way of doing the form and experiences the benefits of the art together. It is partly this sense that everyone’s Tai Chi is ‘right’ that allows a group to practise with a real sense of shared endeavour and harmony.

Socialising with peers in this way is well known to improve the quality of life for all ages, but becomes particularly important to older adults who may feel more lonely or isolated. We are holistic beings and our emotional health greatly impacts our physical body. Happy, fulfilled people of any age do tend to be healthier; whether we like it or not, our sense of happiness is closely linked to the strength of the relationships we have in our lives.

By m-louis  [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tai Chi Improves Bone Density

Seniors who practise Tai Chi regularly gain strength, endurance and improve their balance. They also greatly reduce the risk of bone density loss.

Although low-impact, Tai Chi is still a weight bearing form of exercise as practitioners move with, against, and through their own body weight. Weight bearing exercises are well know to build and maintain bone density, something that is particularly important for seniors 65 years and older. As an aside, this can also be an important benefit of Tai Chi practise for women who are menopausal and at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.

Keeping You on Your Feet

Beyond bone health, Tai Chi builds strength in the legs and lower body. It also strengthens the ankles and knees, which increases balance and stability in movement. This becomes of major importance as we get older and greatly reduces one of the problems of more advanced years, the increased risk of a serious fall.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA, one out of every three adults aged 65 or older experiences a fall in any given year. These falls can often lead to quite significant injuries in the elderly that include head traumas or broken bones, particularly broken hips.

By SONGMY  [CC BY 2.5 cn], via Wikimedia Commons
The US Surgeon General’s Report on ‘Bone Health and Osteoporosis: What It Means to You’ states that elderly people who suffer a broken hip are four times more likely to die within the three months following the injury. Elderly people who recover from hip fractures often experience continued health complications for the remainder of their lives.

By way of illustration, my aged mother managed to break her hip twice within the space of a few years. Although she was fortunate and did recover, she still walks with quite a marked limp. Considering where she was after the second break, the fact that she walks at all is something of a minor miracle but the damage done in the fall definitely impacted the rest of her life.

If you are already wheelchair bound and think there is no way you could do Tai Chi at all then you may be surprised to know that it can even be done from a wheelchair in an modified form.

Additional Benefits of Tai Chi for Health

Unlike many other forms of exercise, Tai Chi does not deplete the energy reserves of the body but actively enlivens it with increased vitality. This remarkable art has been shown to have many positive benefits, including:

  • Assisting sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Improves cardiovascular health by encouraging deep breathing.
  • Lowering blood pressure.
  • Help with pain relief from conditions like arthritis.
  • Promote recovery following a heart attack or stroke.

In addition, has been shown to reduce risk of stroke in high-risk patients.

Tai Chi Benefits Stress

We have seen how Tai Chi can provide a simple, enjoyable, and accessible way to offset and prevent many of the health concerns faced by those of more senior years. The benefits of this ancient activity go way beyond the physical and can have huge mental advantages too.

Studies have shown Tai Chi actually improves brain power and memory. In one study, subjects who did Tai Chi were able to increase grey matter in the brain by as much as 40%! Could regular Tai Chi practise help prevent or slow that other scourge of old age, dementia?

The integration of mind and body during a Tai Chi session does seem to engender a general sense of mental well being in practitioners. This aspect of the practise also alleviates the symptoms of stress and improves general mental capability and concentration.

By Tom Thai [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tai Chi Benefits for Seniors? The Verdict.

Tai Chi is an ideal form of exercise for seniors.  It is low-impact and regular practise carries with it multiple benefits, both physical and mental. Tai Chi promotes and allows you to retain high levels of functional fitness leading to a full and energised life well into your retirement years. It improves mobility, bone health, memory and brain power; all key elements that support your general well-being and energy and allow you to live life to the full

If 60 is the new 40 then 80 must be the new 60! The simple practise of Tai Chi can help make these extended golden years for us all an experience of great quality. It can, quite literally, add years to your life and life to your years.

Thanks for stopping by. If you are interested in finding out more about how Tai Chi practise can benefit you please sign up to our monthly newsletter ‘Confessions of a Misguided Monk‘ or email me directly at info@universalenergyhealing.net.  Please, keep in touch. Share a comment or questions and I will get back to you. Click here to read The Big Idea – it may help you to understand more about our healing philosophy.

 

Tai Chi Stress Relief – Rediscovering Mindfullness in a Hectic World

(c) Can Stock Photo / alphaspirit

Mindfulness has become something of a buzz word in recent times with lessons and classes popping up everywhere. It seems that our fast paced world has created something of a monster, with stress related ‘dis-ease’ almost endemic amongst our population. It is perhaps somewhat ironic that an answer to the daily stress we feel may have been with us all the time. The ancient art of Tai Chi provides a simple and readily accessible activity that allows people to decrease stress and anxiety by slowing the pace at which theeir mind and body functions. This article explores the benefits of using Tai Chi stress relief solutions as an alternative to some of the less healthy activities we often indulge in!

So Busy Making a Living That We Forget To Make a Life.

We live such hectic lives, rushing through the day from work, to collecting the kids and then hurriedly racing home to make dinner for the family. How often do we actually stop and just breathe? This fast paced lifestyle certainly takes its toll on our health and general wellness as we constantly seem to be on alert, working out what we have to do next. Can I get this report finished on time? Do I have time for lunch? Ahhh! This traffic jam will make me late for my meeting?

We spend so much of our day in this hyper-alert state that our stress response is running almost flat out. As we hit a chronic state of fight, flight or freeze, joy itself seems to evaporate from our lives and happiness becomes a distant memory; something we left behind in our childhood but definitely not something that is a permanent part of our adult life.

If you suffer from any of these symptoms on a regular basis the likelihood is that you are suffering from chronic stress:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Inability to focus
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Jaw clenching and teeth grinding
  • Accelerated breathing pattern
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nervous energy expressed by pacing, nail biting and fidgeting

The Solution? Pause and Take a Breath

One of Tai Chi’s foundational components, deep breathing, immediately slows the body and the mind by disengaging the fight, flight or freeze response and activating the relaxation response. The mindful awareness achieved when performing the slow movements of Tai Chi allows a person to disengage from stressful stimuli and stressful thought patterns and facilitates a calm and relaxed mind.

Connecting with the breath is one of the first activities performed during a Tai Chi practice. Once a practitioner establishes their stance, they allow their breath to deepen and slow and endeavour to maintain this style of breathing throughout the practise. This type of breathing turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, eliciting the relaxation response in the body.

This has the opposite effect to the sympathetic nervous. The sympathetic nervous system activates the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response, whereas the parasympathetic nervous system soothes and calms the body. Practising deep breathing alters the way the body reacts to stress; fight,flight or freeze ceases to be the default response to any stressful stimuli.

And Move….

By Sergio Luiz Villasboas [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Tai Chi practitioners perform each of the poses in the various Tai Chi forms slowly and with great focus. They will narrow their perception to their immediate actions and surroundings. For example, they focus on where their feet meet the ground or the sensations associated with shifting their weight from one foot to another. As they lift their arms, they may note the way their hands look and the way the muscles of their shoulders and upper back feel as their arms rise and fall.

With practise this elevated concentration becomes effortless. Once memorised by the mind as well as the body, muscle memory comes into play, which allows long-term practitioners to find a meditative state. Their attention shifts from the mechanics of the practice to its content; from the how to the what of being in the present moment. The intellect ceases to name an object, idea, or activity and the practitioner experiences an expansive awareness. In this way Tai Chi becomes a moving meditation experience! 

Don’t Be Mislead Though

Just because Tai Chi is practised slowly and as a form of moving meditation doesn’t mean it is a soft or weak option. It still has many of the same physical benefits as traditional Western exercise. These benefits include building strength and flexibility, stress reduction, improved cardiovascular function, improved immune system function, improved sleep and a general sense of well-being. And it accomplishes all this with far lower physiological impact. Unlike many traditional exercise systems, your body will thank you for it as you age!

Tai Chi Stress Relief – The Bottom Line

Tai Chi’s slow and repetitive nature makes it simple to learn. The practice does not require any special equipment and you only needs a few feet of space in which to move. It provides an effective and proven approach to physical fitness, mindfulness, and meditation and does this by combining deep breathing with focused movement. It is suitable for all ages, all fitness levels and in many cases can even be practised by people with limited capacity for movement.

Finally, practising Tai Chi can definitely reduce the way your body reponds to the stresses and strains of life, leading to greatly increased levels of physical and mental well-being.

Thanks for stopping by, I wish you all the best as you research your own path to reducing the stress in your life. Please, keep in touch. Share a comment or questions and I will get back to you. Click here to read The Big Idea – it may help you to understand our healing philosophy.