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.

 

18 thoughts on “What are the Tai Chi Benefits for Seniors?

  1. Awesome post!
    Although I’m not a senior citizen (rather the opposite), I think this is a great way to keep fit, active and healthy. I imagine that the sooner you start tai-chi, the longer the empowering effects will last.

    • Your’re absolutely right Josh – this can be a life long activity and not just for the older generation. I would recommend that anyone young looks very seriously at it. Many thanks for your comment.

  2. Hi Steve,

    Another great post. I actually did Tai Chi for many years back in my late 30’s and really enjoyed it. Of course life gets in the way and I haven’t done it sine. I really enjoyed the meditative effect too.

    Years of running and gym work has affected my knees and back so this post is a real wake up call to get back into it. I do yoga once a week and now time to find tai chi again. My body needs it. Cheers Steve,

    Kev

    • Sounds like we have some parallels to our stories Kevin. The things we do when we were young and fit some to come back and bite us as we age! Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for touching base again.

  3. Steve, I found this post very informational to me since I am already approaching the age of being a senior. I have started walking on a regular basis and I do some exercises. I am in need of losing my “beer belly” and possibly dropping some weight but I do feel the restriction of movement that used to come so easily and natural. I would very much like to learn this art of slow movement in hopes that it will help in my mobility, balance and lower body strength. I thank you for opening my eyes,

    • Thank you for your comment Ken. The slowness of the movements is actually deceptive – because you are moving slowly your legs in particular are working very hard as you transfer weight from one to the other. It is a really great way of improving your base structure and stability. Let me know how you get on.

  4. This is good stuff. I have never personally practiced Tai-Chi, but I really would like to start learning. Our world is so crazy, and can be so stressful sometimes. This seems like a good way to calm the self.

    • You are so right about our world being increasingly crazy and stressful. Tai Chi provides a wonderfully effective way of centring yourself so that you learn to become the still point amongst all this chaos going on around you. I would thoroughly recommend that you investigate studying it.

  5. Steve, a nice article about the positives of obviously Tai Chi, but general low-impact exercise. I’m a huge believer in physical activity helps body and mind. Too many “mature” people state they are too old for such activities, which is nonsense.
    Your piece is very nicely written, and I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for posting and sharing.

    • Many thanks for you kind words Francis. You are absolutely right about (appropriate) exercise being so important for all of us. It’s so easy to let this slip – particularly as you add a few years to the clock! That’s why I recommend Tai Chi so much – it has all the benefits without the huffing and puffing!

  6. Wow, your post really spoke to me and my own personal ailments. Now in my late sixties as a youth I was more than active. My list of injuries and the osteoarthritis and other ailments that manifested from those injuries in my 50’s is lengthy. I’ve heard about tai-chi for years but never took the time to really look into it. Your post was so thorough I feel like I not only learned exactly what it is but how it can help in so many ways. I’m signing up for the newsletter and think this is exactly what I need at this point to be able to remain active. Thanks for awakening me and I’m looking forward to that newsletter.

    • Thanks for your comment Jim – Tai Chi could be a way for you to improve your overall physical well being. It certainly reversed many of the aches and pains I was experiencing. The next issue of the newsletter will be mid-Feb.

  7. Hello Steve, yet another beneficial posts to all readers of it. Thank you.
    How refreshing to see from those images people of both genders and all ages grouped together doing the same thing in an very laid back kind of way. If nothing else it draws people together, breaks down barriers and build trust. In communities like that the elders feel safe, they get to know the younger generation, the younger generation develops more respect for the seniors. You could go on and on about the social and positive community results if this kind of gentle activity is encouraged and implemented just in a local park or any safe open areas.

    Add to this ALL the physical and mental/emotional benefits you have highlighted. There are not too many other activities that combine ALL of these!

  8. I’ve seen this off and on through life, though I didn’t know it was called Tai Chi. It’s a beautiful, almost dance-like endeavor.

    I assumed it was primarily for balance and meditation, and through your description I can see that it is all of that and more.

    I’m strongly considering delving in deeper for several reasons…

    First, I’m only in my 40’s but already I’m starting to feel discomfort in my knees and wrists (I’m a programmer by trade).

    Second, I find that I’m becoming more and more sedentary, and as a result, my energy levels seem to be less than they once were, and I abhor that thought.

    Finally, one of my visceral fears is the loss of my mind. I had an idea that there may be some mental clarity gained, as this seems to be the case in any kind of activity stemming from precise movements, but I had never considered an actual gain of mental mass.

    Thank you so much for a wonderful article, you’ve opened my eyes to a new type of pursuit.

    • Thanks for your comment Jack. Tai Chi would certainly hit all the boxes you’ve described. The mental side is often overlooked but there is considerable evidence that it helps maintain clarity of thought and focus. Having a father in law with dementia, I too share a fear of the loss of my mind. I have seen the damage it does up close. It is sad not just that the man I once knew so well is no longer there, but also that my wife is not recognised as the loving daughter she is. Horrible condition. Anything we can do to ward that one off has to be done and Tai Chi certainly has a good record on this.

  9. While I am not a senior(44) I think you may have inspired me to get started with Tai Chi. After years of running, my joints are in terrible shape, and I think that this would be good for me. Not to mention my high levels of stress that could use relieving.

    Thanks for the informative post, and for helping me motivate to try something new!

    Chris

    • Thanks for your comment Chris. Isn’t it amazing how the things we do in one part of our lives to stay fit and healthy bite back as we get older?!! I would thoroughly recommend you taking a look at Tai Chi as a route to helping get you joints back in some shape. As you so rightly point out it will help with stress levels too!

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