Practicing tai chi can provide many health and wellness benefits. But does that sound like exercise? And what physical benefits can you expect if you do it regularly?
Americans need 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, including two muscle-building days, according to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Depending on the type of tai chi you practice and your individual fitness level, there are times when tai chi may count toward these two exercise indicators.
This can be the case, for example, for people with chronic pain, arthritis or limited mobility, for whom exercise seems difficult or impossible, says Rhayun said Song, PhD, dean of the College of Nursing. from Chungham National University in Korea says. . and director of the Tai Chi University for Health Education and Research Center. “The way tai chi is done – slow, gentle movements, kneeling, weight shifting – brings more benefits than normal walking,” said Dr. Song, a former Tai Chi instructor certified by the Tai Chi for Health Institute. since 2004.
He says incorporating tai chi into your daily life can lead to “significant improvement” for Americans battling arthritis due to movement, flexibility and stress issues. For others who are fit and healthy, it can be a great exercise to challenge your flexibility and strength while connecting your mind and body, Song said.
Why Tai Chi is Good for Improving Health
Tai chi is a mental exercise that originated in ancient China, with its roots in martial arts, says Paul Lam, MD, a family physician who has been teaching tai chi for more than 40 years. In 2010, Dr. Lam and his medical team founded the Tai Chi for Health Institute, which focuses on developing tai chi exercises to improve health conditions including osteoporosis, diabetes, and fall prevention. . Think of tai chi as a multi-dimensional exercise, says Kristi Hallisy, PT, DSc, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who is a licensed exercise specialist for older adults and a certified head coach. something tai chi. He has helped develop rehabilitation programs to promote aging and anti-aging based on the core principles of tai chi.
Muscle Building Benefits
To begin with, tai chi is a complete exercise that strengthens the body, while you stand, move slowly as if you are attacking a fire resistance, and shift your weight. and hold positions, including standing on one leg or in a squat position, Hallisy says. .
According to Shirley Chock, owner and executive director of Aiping Tai Chi, Milford, tai chi can be especially effective in strengthening the back of those undergoing physiotherapy after injury, as well as the elderly who want to improve. their journey and avoid falling. Tai chi school in Connecticut. A study of 702 participants, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that 16 weekly one-hour tai chi classes reduced the number of falls among participants by 67%.
“I have people go to five sessions and learn the movements to change their balance, strength and confidence when they walk or climb stairs every day,” Hallisy adds in his patients move.
Researchers who surveyed more than 61,400 men in China found that those who practiced tai chi had a lower risk of dying than their counterparts who ran for exercise, according to their published study. according to the American Journal of Epidemiology. Another study, published in the journal PLoS One (PDF), found that regular tai chi practice improves heart health, especially the heart and lungs, even in healthy adults. Research shows that tai chi is also effective in reducing waist circumference, especially in people 50 and older. A 2021 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine followed 550 adults aged at least 50, randomly assigning them to tai chi for three hours per week, aerobic exercise and strength training three times per week week, or no exercise at all for 12. weeks. Both the tai chi group and the traditional aerobic exercise group lost weight in the waist. However, those who did tai chi lost 0.7 inches more than those who did moderate weight training.
Benefits of mental health
And for everyone else, it’s also a mental workout combined with learning deep breathing techniques, mindfulness, and intentional movement.
“Through practice, you learn to be in the moment, be aware of your surroundings, and tune into your body. It helps you move in a more organized way,” says Chock. It can benefit people of all fitness levels.
So, Does Tai Chi Count Toward My Weekly Physical Activity?
Yes, tai chi counts as physical activity. But whether a tai chi practice counts toward your weekly aerobic and strength training benchmarks depends on the intensity of your practice and your fitness level.
Hallisy says it’s considered a “mild to moderate aerobic exercise,” but this depends on the style and fitness level of the practitioner. Some lineages of tai chi cross over into martial arts, which can up the intensity significantly.
For an older adult with low aerobic fitness, focusing on the challenge of balance and gaining muscle strength from a tai chi session can be a sufficient full-body workout, Chock says.
But someone who is regularly doing HIIT workouts multiple times a week and does a significant amount of strength training, slower-paced tai chi practices may not dial up the intensity enough to provide a strength or aerobic workout. More strenuous, faster-paced style of tai chi, however — like Chen tai chi — might indeed offer a tough workout, according to Chock.
And it’s worth noting that even those with high fitness levels may prefer a calmer form of tai chi, marked by slower movements, for a rest day between intense aerobic workouts, too.
How to Fit Tai Chi Into a Weekly Workout Plan
Here are four tips for starting with tai chi, no matter what your age or fitness level:
1. Pick the Style That’s Right for You
If you want to start practicing tai chi, first pick the form that’s right for you. There’s the Chen style (the oldest form, with fast, alternating movements), the Yang style (the most popular form practiced today, marked by slow, steady movements), and others, Lam says.
Most styles have an amended version that includes staying seated for some — or all — of the class, using a chair or the wall for extra balance when needed, or keeping both feet firmly planted on the ground, so the practice can be modified for people of different physical abilities.
2. If You Have Limited Mobility or Fitness, Prioritize Safety
If it’s your main workout because of a previous injury or issues with balance and stability, prioritize your safety first, Lam says, and choose a gentle form you can comfortably practice for about 10 minutes a day.
3. Don’t Let Your Age Stop You
Tai chi’s reputation as a gentle exercise shouldn’t dissuade younger Americans from taking up the practice, too, Chock says. Her students range from as young as 12 years old to as old as 90. While the classes they opt for and the benefits they yield may differ between age groups, she says the practice has the same fundamental benefit: stress relief and mindfulness.
4. Be Consistent With Your Practice
The key to getting results is consistent practice: Lam says that tai chi should be done at least 10 minutes a day to establish a daily routine, but although people should do something like 20 to 30 minutes per day. Hallisy says it can be incorporated into a complete workout routine alongside resistance training and strength training, or as a stand-alone resistance training exercise for people at lower fitness levels. You will notice better posture, balance, flexibility and leg strength within a few months of practice.
Hallisy says you can start seeing results in about six weeks to three months, as clinical trials have shown, but you should continue to practice tai chi regularly to maintain your fitness. “If you pursue it for a long time, you will learn that it is the purpose of the mind that makes the movement. It is about ending the tension in the body and stress in your mind,” says Chock. “The issue is whether the exercise is interesting enough to attract people’s attention at the time, and is good enough to keep them doing it,” Song says. In general, more physical activity leads to better health and fitness, he adds.