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Tai Chi: A Gentle Path to Fitness
A gentle path to improving balance, easing stress.

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Tai Chi: A Gentle Path to Fitness

Tai chi is a mind-body exercise that was first used by Chinese monks to improve concentration and physical well-being. Today, some people may turn to it to help manage stress.

Tai chi is a low-impact aerobic exercise that combines breathing exercises with slow and gentle movements. Sometimes called moving meditation, the graceful and precise body movements can enhance balance, strength and coordination while helping you achieve better body awareness. It may also increase inner peace.

Tai chi won't make you huff and puff. It is an activity for all age groups and all levels of fitness. It is ideal for just about anyone - adults, children, even older adults or people with disabilities. You can often do tai chi even when you use a wheelchair or walker. Many of the movements can be adapted and performed in a sitting position.

Tai chi uses meditation-like movement of the whole body. These movements are said to align the body, improve flexibility and increase energy flow called qi. The movements are designed to send energy or qi smoothly throughout the entire body. Posture and deep breathing are very important in tai chi. The motions are constant with very regulated breaths.

Benefits of tai chi
Researchers have studied the benefits of tai chi. They may include:

  • Increased bone health
  • Cardiopulmonary fitness
  • Improved balance and fall prevention
  • Increased quality of life
  • Improved self-confidence
  • Strengthened muscles, ligaments and tendons

Risks of tai chi
Injuries from tai chi are few - another advantage. The movements are performed very slowly and are not strenuous if done correctly. Like any activity, your muscles may be sore when you first start tai chi. You may need to change or stay away from some of the movements if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Have a hernia
  • Have joint problems
  • Have back pain
  • Have had a bone fracture
  • Have severe osteoporosis

If you have one of these conditions, contact your doctor to discuss whether you should take a tai chi class.

Tips for beginners
All you need to practice tai chi is about 10 square feet of empty space at home, in a park, or even on the beach.

The only gear you need for tai chi is your body. Some people prefer to wear a martial arts training uniform. But all you really need is a loose fitting, comfortable T-shirt or sweatshirt and shorts or lightweight pants. Cotton, cotton blends or other breathable fabrics are best. Wear cotton socks and comfortable sneakers.

If you are physically inactive or have a chronic health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy or other symptoms, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. He or she can tell you what types of activities are safe and suitable for you.

If you have approval from your doctor to take a tai chi class, there still may be times when you should not take a class. Tai chi instructors recommend that you not participate in tai chi when you:

  • Have an infection
  • Are overly tired
  • Have just eaten a meal

Tai chi tips for seniors
Research shows that the most effective plan to prevent falls among older adults is activity that improves strength, movement and flexibility. Tai chi may help to achieve these goals.

Finding a tai chi class
Tai chi classes are frequently offered in community centers, fitness clubs, senior centers and local community colleges.

Margie Schmidt contributed to this report.

By Barbara Kunz, Contributing Writer
Created on 09/20/1999
Updated on 07/08/2013
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes.
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Research spotlight. Tai chi and qi gong show some beneficial health effects.
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Tai chi. An introduction.
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