Tai chi is an art – a mind-body practice that involves mindfulness, slow movements and controlled breathing. It’s a practice that has been around for thousands of years. In fact, it was an ancient Chinese tradition that was originally made for self-defense. (1) And today, it’s practiced by almost 250 million people around the world. (2)
It’s often described as “meditation in motion” because it focuses on total harmony of both your mind and your body. (3) Tai chi can be a very peaceful exercise, not just to practice, but also to watch. The gentle, flowing movements are artistic and beautiful, creating a harmony that can be seen and felt.
This ancient exercise is not only great for summoning inner peace, but also has many health benefits. According to the Tai Chi for Health Institute, “numerous studies have shown tai chi improves muscular strength, flexibility, fitness, improves immunity, relieves pain and improves quality of life.” (3) Recently, researchers have also been studying whether tai chi can help you sleep better and reduce the risk of falls in older adults.
If you want to do something new to improve your mental health, tai chi is for you. Because it’s an exercise that’s great for relaxation and quieting the mind, it can help decrease stress, depression, and anxiety. One recent study found that doing tai chi regularly has been associated with “improvements in psychological well-being including reduced stress, anxiety, depression and mood disturbance, and increased self-esteem.” (5)
If you want to increase your balance and decrease your risk of falls, tai chi is great for that too! One study took a group of 256 physically inactive people between the ages of 70-92 and divided them into two groups. One group got signed up for tai chi three times a week and the other group did stretching exercises. At the end of six-months, the tai chi group had a 55% lower risk of falls than the stretching group. And, “the elderly individuals who practiced tai chi showed significant improvement in all measures of functional balance, physical performance, and reduced fear of falling.” (2)
What about headaches? Well, turns out tai chi can help you there too! Many people suffer from chronic headaches, due to tension and stress. One UCLA study showed that tai chi helped for headaches as well. Participants who practiced tai chi showed improvements in energy levels, well-being, social functioning, and the number and pain of headaches. (2)
Tai chi has many health benefits and adding it to your workout program can improve your overall well-being in many ways. Although the reasons behind how it helps are still yet to be discovered, some think it has a lot to do with the increased awareness of your body.
Tai chi is a great example of something that’s called the mind-body connection. There’s a complex relationship between our bodies and our minds – they both affect each other in different ways. For example, how much you exercise and what you eat affects whether you feel good or not so good.
Put simply, “our minds can affect how healthy our bodies are.” (6) That’s why activities like tai chi, yoga, meditation, and relaxation exercises work with both the mind and the body to make us feel healthier and happier. The mind-body connection affects many areas of our lives. In fact, it’s one of the reasons that there’s a link between fitness levels and depression.
It’s important to understand that your mind and your body work together as a whole. You can’t just try to have a healthy body without having a healthy mind, and vice versa. Your mind plays a huge role in your overall health and fitness. And especially in weight loss as well.
If you were to compare Tai Chi and strength training, you would probably say that strength training is a lot more difficult, therefore making it much more effective. But, not so fast. Researchers at the University of Hong Kong had a similar question. They set out to determine how effective tai chi is for weight loss in people aged 50 and up.
In their study, 543 people with central obesity were randomly divided into three groups. The first group did Yang style tai chi. The second group did brisk walking and strength training. Both of the groups did their workouts for one hour, three times a week. And the third group did nothing at all. (4)
After 3 months, the researchers measured the participants’ body weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference. They were surprised to find that the tai chi group and the second exercise group lost about the same amount of belly fat. They concluded that “tai chi can be an effective alternative to conventional exercise in the management of central obesity.” (4)
It might be hard to believe that an exercise with such slow movements could work just as well as aerobic exercise for getting rid of belly fat, but the results speak for themselves. In older adults, doing tai chi regularly is a great exercise option for weight loss.
You might be thinking, it won’t work for me. But, it’s never too late to try something new, and it’s never too late to lose weight. There’s a lot of myths out there about weight loss and aging. But the real research shows that age is no barrier to weight loss, and tai chi can be one of the resources you use in your weight loss journey.
If you’re interested in giving tai chi a shot, check out your local community center to look for classes or a group that you can join. There are many tai chi groups that often meet in parks to practice tai chi. Don’t be afraid to join in! Joining a local tai chi group in your community can be a great way to make friends and become more involved in your community.
To get all the health benefits you can from tai chi, try to make it a part of your routine. Many of the benefits are long-term, and if you develop a habit of practicing tai chi once or twice a week, you’ll be able to see a big difference in the long run.