10 Science-Backed Benefits of Tai Chi

Taijiquan, or “Tai Chi Chuan” is a perfect low-impact workout. Even with a minimal series of movement, Tai Chi can aid you in reaching your health and fitness objectives. It also gives you numerous advantages beyond that as well. Taiji is popularly thought of merely as a Chinese health technique included a collection of motions that you execute slowly. Rest assured, there is a lot more to it than that. Below, we will explore 10 Science-Backed Advantages of Tai Chi. Taiji has a host of advantages, consisting of aiding high blood pressure, enhancing heart wellness as well as immune feature, and even reducing your threat for dementia.

 

What is Taijiquan?

My youngest son, who trains in Kung Fu at TAMA Martial Arts, was surprised when I told him that Taijiquan is a system of Kung Fu. Taiji (often pronounced “Tai Chi”), translates literally to to “Grand Ultimate.” The meaning of this term, however, is usually lost in translation. Taiji is a synonym for the Chinese term “Tao” or “Way” of Nature. In essence, Taiji can be translated as the “Natural Order.” Thus, Taijiquan means “Natural Order Boxing” – even “Yin-Yang Boxing” or “boxing in accordance with the nature of yin and yang.”

Taijiquan is an established as a fighting style. Teaching martial applications of Taiji is not something new, it is how the art is traditionally taught. It is a primarily Western phenomenon to look at Taiji as some sort of slow, methodical, calisthenic routine.

“It originated in the thirteenth century and is a non-impact exercise that helps people understand and feel their postural alignment through slow careful moving,” Betty Chewning, Ph.D., Tai Chi prime research investigator at Tai Chi Health and a professor in the School of Pharmacy at University of Wisconsin-Madison explains. “It also enhances your body awareness, balance, coordination, strength, and flexibility.”

Taiji is very different from the often seemingly similar practice of yoga. “Tai Chi and yoga are both mind-body exercises, but they stemmed from different culture and philosophy,” explains Parco M. Siu, Ph.D., associate professor and head of the Division of Kinesiology at the University of Hong King. Moreover, yoga is not a martial art. Taijiquan is. You could, if you were so inclined, think of Taijiquan as “Yogic Kung Fu.” In China, this is expressed by calling it “Nei Jia” or “Internal Family” Kung Fu – along with the sister arts of Xingyiquan (Hsing I Chuan) and Baguazhang (Pa Kua Chang), as well as others.

Who Should Practice Taijiquan?

Taijiquan practice is often suggested for older adults — it has a well-deserved reputation for improving balance and preventing falls. More recent research has even indicated that regular Taijiquan practice can “ward off” dementia (there’s a pun there, that practitioners will recognize). Experts agree that the benefits go far beyond balance, and anyone and everyone should give it a try.

“I recommend anybody of all ages and occupations try Tai Chi,” says Ruth Taylor-Piliae, Ph.D, R.N., Associate Professor at University of Arizona College of Nursing. “Tai Chi is a flexible, adaptable form of exercise for anyone.” Tai Chi is even acceptable for those with little or no athletic background. “Tai Chi is known to be a suitable activity for older people, including those who are not active,” Siu says.

How To Get Going With Taijiquan

When you decide to try out Tai Chi, find a flat, open space to perform your movements and plan on a specific time to practice, explains Chewning, who has been practicing daily Tai Chi for nearly 48 years.

You’ll want to find a personal practice or group class that works for you. You can commit yourself to hour-long classes, but even five-to-10 minutes a day of regular Tai Chi can benefit you, she says. That’s enough time to perform the “fab four basic moves” that her research has found reinforces daily practice and produces positive health results.

If a class setting is appealing to you, look for groups who practice together at a community center or even an online course. If you’re looking to commit to a longer class format, start with twice a week for an hour for three-to-four months for maximum benefits, says Taylor-Piliae. “Don’t be afraid to try different classes,” she urges. “Find a group and teacher that works for you.”

You will find that TAMA Martial Arts has an array of options with Taiji training. We have Yang style Taiji classes, and have recently welcomed Dr. Micah Naziri back to teach regular Chen style Taiji classes.

So just what are the health and wellness advantages of Taiji?

1. Taiji Is Good Exercise

For those who aren’t keen on high-intensity aerobic exercise, Taiji be a good solution. Research published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine followed adults over 50-years-old to determine how Taiji practice would affect their health. The 543 participants were broken into three groups of no exercise, conventional exercise of brisk walking and light strength training, and Tai Chi practice for one-hour instructor-led workouts three times a week for 12 weeks.

Compared to the no exercise group, researchers found both Taiji and conventional exercise reduced waist circumference, body weight, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

“Our study showed that Tai Chi mirrors the beneficial effects of conventional exercise by reducing waist circumference in middle-aged and older adults with central obesity. Although Tai Chi is a gentle mind-body exercise, our findings suggest that Tai Chi is an effective approach for management of central obesity. Nonetheless, regular Tai Chi practice can be considered an approach for people to adhere to the World Health Organization physical activity recommendations,” says Siu, lead author on this study.

2. Taiji Relieves pain

In a small study published in the Journal of Holistic Nutrition, 10 participants took part in a 12-week Taiji course, and researchers measured their pain intensity, cognition, emotional state, and physical function with questionnaires. The study determined that Taiji could be used as a treatment for musculoskeletal pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. A larger randomized controlled trial published in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ found that of 226 adults suffering from fibromyalgia, those who participated in Taiji had equal or greater improvement in symptoms compared to those who performed traditional aerobic exercise.

3. Taiji Strengthens cardiovascular health

Tai Chi has a greater impact on your heart than you might think for such a slow form of movement. A recent randomized controlled trial published in the journal Heart & Lung found adults with hypertension who trained Taiji for six months had significantly lower blood pressure and body mass index compared to those receiving their usual care for hypertension.

An additional meta-analysis published in the journal PLOS ONE examined 20 small-scale studies that looked at Taiji’s impact on heart health. The results suggested Taiji may be effective in improving cardiorespiratory health in adults.

4. Taiji Improves mood and mental health.

Exercise has long been tied to improved mental health, and Taiji may be the mind-body workout you needed to boost your mood and encourage a healthy mental state.

A recent meta-analysis published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing reviewed 15 studies that used Taiji to improve psychological well-being. When Taiji was compared to control groups, researchers saw an improvement in quality of life, mental health, and physical health. Additionally, they noted less depression and psychological distress among participants.

In another randomized clinical trial published in The Journal of Cardiovascular Nursingresearchers analyzed stroke survivor’s mental and physical health after practicing Taiji.

“We found that after the intervention, there were significant reductions in depression, anxiety and stress, and improved sleep,” says Taylor-Piliae, lead author on the study. “Tai Chi can be another tool in the toolbox, especially for people who have depression, anxiety, and stress. It’s something that can be used alongside conventional healthcare, like medications and psychotherapy, for people struggling to adhere to traditional kinds of care.”

5. Taiji Improves Balance and Prevents Falls.

As we get older, and even before then for those of us not naturally gifted with good coordination, Taijiquan improves balance. “It’s pretty well-established Tai Chi is great for balance, muscle strength, and physical health,” says Taylor-Piliae.

Studies back this up 100%. A randomized controlled trial published in the journal Gerontologist asked participants to take a six-week modified Taiji course. The results surprised the researchers, according to Chewning, an author on the study. They found participants reported practicing Taiji for 25 minutes a day for six day per week (more than the researchers expected), and self-reported better leg strength, balance, mobility, confidence, and functioning compared to the control group, she says. The National Institute of Health also touts Tai Chi as an effective option to improve balance, stability, and more in older people.

6. Taiji Boosts the Immune System.

Now more than ever, in this COVID-era, we should be looking into any and all ways to boost our immune system. Research which looked at both Taiji and Qi Kung found a wide variety of benefits, including improved immune functions. The review of research, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, noted an improvement in antibody numbers after vaccinations, T-cell increases in response to vaccinations, and number of immune-related blood markers. The research also supported many of the practices’ other benefits, such as improved bone density and cardiopulmonary functioning, a decrease in falls and related risk factors, and more.

7. Taiji Improves cognitive function.

Though Chewning’s research was focused on fall prevention, researchers found cognitive functioning was also improved throughout the experiment. “We found at the end of the six-week period that the scores were significantly higher for those who were in our Taiji course group than for the control,” she says.

An additional review published in The Journal of American Geriatrics Society examined 11 studies for improvements in cognition in adults who participated in Taiji, compared to those who did not. The findings concluded that Taiji may have a positive effect on cognitive functioning in older adults without known cognitive impairment.

Any of us who have seen dementia ravage our loved ones, should consider Taiji as a preventative measure against this possibility.

8. Taiji protects against fractures.

A randomized trial published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine of 86 osteogenic (weaker than normal bones) women aged 45 to 70 were assigned either usual care or the addition of Taiji for nine months. Those who performed Taiji improved their bone density, postural control, bone formation markers, and quality of life. Researchers concluded Taiji is a great option for reducing fall and fracture risk. This is good news not only for the aging but

9. Reduces fatigue.

Taiji has long been associated with improving energy levels, and one study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management examined how Taiji affected the energy levels of cancer-related fatigue and autonomic nervous system balance in cancer patients and survivors. Through a randomized control trial, participants practiced Taiji for five one-hour sessions. Scientists found those who had usual care and Taiji practice experienced lower general, physical, and emotional fatigue, compared to those who only received usual care.

10. Encourages a healthy sleep cycle.

Catch some Z’s with regular Taiji practice. Research published in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep had 75 adults, ranging for 18 to 40-years-old, participate in 10 weeks of in-person or video Taiji twice a week or regular anxiety management handouts. Scientists examined the participants’ anxiety and sleep quality and found those who participated in Taiji had significantly lower levels of anxiety and greater improvements in sleep, compared to the control group.

Additionally, a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Sleep Disorders and Therapy found nine randomized trials reported Taiji significantly improved sleep after up the three hours a week of six to 24 weeks of practice.

Looking for more about the 10 Science-Backed Benefits of Tai Chi? Contact us today about joining classes! If you are in the Dayton area, and looking for Martial Arts in Kettering, give us a call at 937-254-7035 to schedule a time for you to come in and start trying classes out! Also, don’t forget to add us on Facebook and follow on Instagram!

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