By JUDD MATSUNAGA, Esq.

If you’re looking for a way to reduce stress, increase flexibility and balance, you may want to look into tai chi (TIE-CHEE). Although tai chi may sound mysterious, it is becoming a popular trend as an exercise option for seniors. It involves a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner and accompanied by deep breathing.

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that, today, is practiced as a graceful form of exercise. Originally developed for self-defense, tai chi is based in martial arts. Sometimes described as “slow-mo karate,” tai chi promotes serenity through gentle, flowing movements. Participants learn to breathe correctly, focusing on how they intake and release air while moving.

When designed for seniors, the movements are slow, with footwork choreographed by a group leader. Concentrating on each movement helps the mind to relax and relieves stress. The person is often calmer and has more energy after a session. Deep breathing and learning to focus helps improve balance, which can help prevent falls and injuries.

In fact, a study from the Emory University School of Medicine showed that tai chi classes help reduce falls risk by almost 50%. What’s more, a study by researchers at the University of Toronto in Canada demonstrated how tai chi can help people with specific conditions, including heart failure, osteoarthritis, breast cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (Source: www.lifeline.ca/en/resources/fitness-benefits-of-tai-chi-for-seniors/)

Here’s a list of 11 potential benefits you can receive by practicing tai chi that I found on Healthline.com (https://www.healthline.com/health/tai-chi-benefits). Hopefully, you’ll find one or more reasons to give tai chi a try.

1. Reduces stress

One of the main benefits of tai chi is its ability to reduce stress and anxiety, though most evidence is anecdotal. In 2018, one study compared the effects of tai chi on stress-related anxiety to traditional exercise. The study included 50 participants. The researchers found that tai chi provided the same benefits for managing stress-related anxiety as exercise. Because tai chi also includes meditation and focused breathing, the researchers noted that tai chi may be superior to other forms of exercise for reducing stress and anxiety. However, a larger-scale study is needed.

Tai chi is very accessible and lower-impact than many other forms of exercise. The researchers found it to be safe and inexpensive, so it may be a good option if you are otherwise healthy and experiencing stress-related anxiety.

2. Improves mood

Tai chi may help improve your mood if you are depressed or anxious. Preliminary research suggests that regularly practicing tai chi can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s believed that the slow, mindful breaths and movements have a positive effect on the nervous system and mood-regulating hormones. Further research is being done to establish a clear link between tai chi and improved mood.

3. Better sleep

Regularly practicing tai chi may help you to have more restful sleep. One study followed young adults with anxiety after they were prescribed two tai chi classes each week, for 10 weeks. Based on participant reporting, the individuals who practiced tai chi experienced significant improvements in their quality of sleep compared to those in the control group. This same group also experienced a decrease in their anxiety symptoms.

Tai chi can improve sleep for older adults, too. In a study published in 2016, researchers found that two months of twice-weekly tai chi classes was associated with better sleep-in older adults with cognitive impairment.

4. Promotes weight loss

Regularly practicing tai chi can result in weight loss. One study tracked changes in weight in a group of adults practicing tai chi five times a week for 45 minutes. At the end of the 12 weeks, these adults lost a little over a pound without making any additional lifestyle changes.

5. Improves cognition in older adults

Tai chi may improve cognition in older adults with cognitive impairment. More specifically, tai chi may help improve memory and executive functioning skills like paying attention and carrying out complex tasks.

6. Reduces risk of falling in older adults

Tai chi can help improve balance and motor function and reduce fear of falling in older adults. It can also reduce actual falls after eight weeks of practice, and significantly reduce falls after 16 weeks of practice. Because fear of falling can reduce independence and quality of life, and falls can lead to serious complications, tai chi may offer the additional benefit of improving quality of life and general well-being in older adults.

7. Improves fibromyalgia symptoms

Tai chi may complement traditional methods for management of certain chronic diseases. Results from a 2018 study showed that a consistent tai chi practice can decrease the symptoms of fibromyalgia in some people. Participants in the study who practiced tai chi for 52 weeks exhibited greater improvements in their fibromyalgia-related symptoms when compared to participants practicing aerobics.

8. Improves COPD symptoms

Tai chi may improve some of the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In one study, people with COPD practiced tai chi for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, they had improvements in their ability to exercise and reported an overall improvement in their quality of life.

9. Improves balance and strength in people with Parkinson’s

In a randomized, controlled trial of 195 participants, regular practice of tai chi was found to decrease the number of falls in people with Parkinson’s disease. Tai chi can also help you to increase leg strength and overall balance.

10. Safe for people with coronary heart disease

Tai chi is a safe form of moderate exercise you can try if you have coronary heart disease. Following a cardiovascular event, regular tai chi practices may help you:

 ● increase physical activity

 ● lose weight

 ● improve your quality of life

11. Reduces pain from arthritis

In a small-scale 2010 study, 15 participants with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) practiced tai chi for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, the participants reported less pain and improved mobility and balance. A larger, earlier study found similar results in people with knee osteoarthritis (OA). In this study, 40 participants with knee OA practiced 60 minutes of tai chi, two times a week for 12 weeks. Following the study, participants reported a reduction in pain and improvement in mobility and quality of life.

In conclusion, you might say, “How can slowly moving around in park do all that?” To be honest, I don’t completely understand it myself. But the experts claim it has something to do with balancing your yin and yang. “Say what?” I know, that’s what I said. Evidently, “Yin” is your body and “Yang” is your mind.

“Think of yin and yang as the complementary but opposite sides of a coin that together form a perfect whole,” says former ballet dancer Linda Fung in a CNN Health article, “Medicine in Motion: How Tai Chi Heals Body and Mind” (Dec. 13, 2019). “By practicing tai chi, you connect these two parts, and you balance the yang energy with the yin energy.

“When you are in balance you feel your ‘chi’ or life force, which traditional Chinese medicine considers a form of energy that can heal mind and body. When chi is unlocked and flowing through the body,” Fung said, “it can address the body’s injuries. When the chi actually start working, your body improves. Your balance gets better. You sleep better. You have enhanced vitality and energy.”

Although tai chi is generally considered to be a safe exercise with few side effects, it is always a good idea to speak with your doctor before starting tai chi. If you have arthritis, you may need to do modified versions of some of the movements. If you’re a beginner, you may experience some aches or pains after practicing your first few sessions of tai chi.

Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of  The Rafu Shimpo.

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