Tai Chi – An Ancient HealerFebruary 21, 2009 Written by JP [Font too small?]
Have you ever seen a group of people practicing the ancient art of Tai Chi? The first time I was exposed to it, I recall thinking that it seemed like a combination of slow motion martial arts and a rather stationary form of dance. It struck me as being beautiful, but also quite exotic. A kind secret ritual that I couldn’t possibly understand.
Fortunately, the world has become a smaller place in many ways. The wisdom of far away teachings can now easily spread beyond any man-made borders and regularly enter the lives of people of all ages and cultures. This is certainly true of Tai Chi.
What it is and What it Does
Tai Chi is a mind-body exercise that focuses on slow and deliberate motions, rather than aerobic or resistance type exertion (like most Western forms of physicality). In this practice, you follow the postures and movements that an instructor gives as an example. Each new move flows into the next. It’s a continuous set of actions that progress in a gentle manner.
There is no competition or measure of success or failure in Tai Chi. You simply do your best to follow along and perform the moves set forth by your teacher. The goal is try to replicate each motion with good technique. Because of this, it’s really not vital that you be particularly strong or flexible in order to take part in this exercise.
Both traditional and modern records indicate that Tai Chi may be helpful in reducing stress, improving mental concentration, promoting flexibility and good posture. But regular users of this craft often report and exhibit other health benefits. This observation has lead to the scientific investigation of this age-old art. In today’s blog, I’m going to examine three recent studies that exemplify the potential of Tai Chi in improving general health and quality of life.
Study #1 – Tai Chi and Cardiovascular Health (link)
53 seniors with high cholesterol recently participated in a study to determine if Tai Chi could improve heart health. About half of the group took part in a year-long Tai Chi training program. The other half continued receiving their typical medical care.
At the beginning and end of the study, all the participants were tested to determine their aerobic capacity (ability to exercise) and various markers associated with heart health. The group that learned and practiced Tai Chi showed significant changes in every area of health that was tested. Specifically, here’s what the researchers found:
- An improvement in oxygen usage/aerobic capacity, ie. allowing for more physical activity, without getting “winded”/”out of breath”.
- Reductions in blood pressure, C-reactive protein (a marker for inflammation), LDL and total cholesterol, insulin and trigylcerides were found in the Tai Chi group. All of the changes are highly desirable in terms of reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
- The group receiving the usual care (no Tai Chi) displayed a worsened state of oxygen usage/aerobic capacity and no significant changes in their cardiovascular health markers.
Study #2 – Tai Chi and Sleep Quality (link)
Many people suffer from an inability to sleep soundly and consistently. This is evidenced by the number of advertisements on TV and in magazines that are promoting over-the-counter and prescription sleep medications. According to a recent trial, Tai Chi may offer a safer and healthier alternative to such medications. A trial involving 112 volunteers with chronic sleep complaints offers proof.
Half of the group was taught Tai Chi over the course of 16 weeks. Afterward, their progress was followed for an additional 9 weeks. The other half of the group was provided health counseling about proper “sleep hygiene”.
The Tai Chi group showed a marked improvement in many measures of sleep including : a) general sleep quality, b) habitual sleep efficiency, c) sleep duration, and d) reduced sleep disturbance.
The authors of the study concluded that, “Tai Chi can be considered a useful nonpharmacologic approach to improve sleep quality in older adults with moderate complaints and, thereby, has the potential to ameliorate sleep complaints possibly before syndromal insomnia develops.”
Study #3 – Tai Chi and Overall Health (link)
This final study utilized a new, more basic form of Tai Chi called STEP (Simplified Tai Chi Exercise Program). It was developed especially for senior citizens who may need extra consideration when beginning any exercise regimen.
In this trial, 41 senior men completed a 6 month course of STEP. They practiced this form of Tai Chi three times a week in 50 minute sessions. Testing was given prior to and after the treatment period. Here’s what the testing revealed:
- There was a significant drop in blood pressure by the end of the trial.
- Physical strength was improved, as measured by an increase in “hand-grip strength”.
- An improvement in lower body flexibility was also noted.
In conclusion, the researchers recommend that, “STEP be incorporated as a floor activity in long-term care facilities to promote physical health of older adults.”
I think Tai Chi is a valuable practice for a number of reasons. Historical and modern evidence clearly show that it can directly impact physical health. But more than that, it helps to connect and focus the mind on promoting the health of the body. Our minds can and should be a major player in our health maintenance and promotion. Tai Chi can also bring about a sense of community because it is rarely practiced in isolation. Sharing an interesting and productive activity with others will likely spawn other life enhancing experiences as well. In my opinion, all these clues point to a therapy that has true holistic merit.
Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!
Tags: Inflammation, Sleep, Tai Chi
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Exercise, Heart Health