Tai Chi for Seniors: Resources and Information for Older Adults

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With benefits like reduced stress, improved heart health and increased mental stamina, it’s no surprise that tai chi is known as “the longevity exercise”.

While the benefits of tai chi can be enjoyed by people of all ages, its low-impact, community-centered nature makes it particularly suited for older adults.

In fact, The National Association of Orthopedic Nurses cites tai chi as an optimal choice for seniors, especially those seeking a gentle aerobic exercise for strengthening muscles and increasing flexibility.

Read on to learn more about the benefits of tai chi, plus how you can get started.

What is Tai Chi?

In Chinese, the term tai chi means “supreme ultimate”. It was first used by Chinese philosophers and scientists to describe astronomy, according to the Tai Chi Society.

Today, most people know tai chi as an exercise that supports the mind and body through fluid movement, breathing control and mental concentration, according to the Tai Chi for Health institute. Tai chi, like yoga, is designed to connect the body to the mind to offer both mental and physical benefits.

Kerri Robertson, who supervises tai chi for seniors at the Senior Activity Center of Sheboygan, says, “Tai Chi is sometimes described as ‘meditation in motion’ because it promotes serenity through gentle movements and connecting the mind and body.”

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Types of Tai Chi

Tai chi is a versatile practice, making it easy to modify and change beyond the traditional styles. Yang Family Tai Chi adds that while there are five main types of tai chi, Yang tai chi is the most popularly practiced form, and that most classes follow this method.

Another popular form of tai chi is Qigong, which focuses more on breathing and body movements. Other tai chi styles are more martial-arts focused. Tai chi can involve tools and techniques for self defense, adds True Tai Chi, and it can sometimes include staffs, spears and swords.

Alternatively, T‘ai Chi Chih is much more focused on movements and is not considered a martial art. This practice includes a set of 19 standalone movements focused on developing one’s intrinsic energy. Raymond Sharp, a teacher of T‘ai Chi Chih, says that since starting the practice, “energy, flexibility, and balance have returned — along with a sense of serenity and joy.”

Another creative form of tai chi is Equestrian Tai Chi, created by instructor Jenny Pim. Equestrian tai chi offers the benefit of sitting instead of standing, which creates more space to appreciate beauty and serenity.

“Riders can build deeper partnerships with their horses by connecting with them at an energetic level by practicing Equestrian Tai Chi,” Pim adds.

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Tai Chi for Seniors

According to recent research cited by health reporter Judith Graham, seniors who engage in regular physical activity are “more likely to recover strength and flexibility and less likely to develop long-term disability.”

In the same study, seniors who focused on walking, strength and balance were 25 percent less likely to experience mobility problems than their non-active counterparts. With its focus on low-impact strength and balance training, a regular tai chi practice can help help seniors maintain mobility and physical longevity.

Other Physical Benefits

Qigong’s relaxation movements can help rejuvenate organ function in seniors. In particular, it can help revitalize the function of the kidney, liver, lungs, spleen and heart, according to Tai Chi Lifestyle. Some Qigong methods can also help with diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma.

Energy Arts explains that tai chi can also regulate and lower blood pressure, and improve circulation in people over 50.

According to the Institute of Integral Tai Chi and Qigong, clinical trials have shown that tai chi and Qigong are “relevant as interventions for the prevention of heart disease and the management of populations at risk for heart disease.”

Tai Chi and Pain Relief

A study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that tai chi can also be an effective therapy for fibromyalgia. The study found that tai chi can help fibromyalgia patients with pain, fatigue and physical functioning.

Dr. Daniel Solomon, chief of clinical research in rheumatology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, adds that the study’s findings are an impressive step for the research of chronic pain conditions.

Mental Benefits of Tai Chi

Ben K. of the Tai-chi-Chuan school describes how tai chi’s fluid movements also provide mental benefits. While many people tend to respond to stressful situations with tension, tai chi helps practitioners cultivate a deepened sense of calm.

“Tai chi teaches us that we are more effective in defending ourselves when we are relaxed,” he says.

New Haven-based magazine Natural Awakenings adds that tai chi and Qigong can also help relieve symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers and veterans.

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How to Get Started

No matter where you live, it’s likely that someone near you is practicing this ancient healing art.

TaiChi Daily points out that Meetup.com is a great place to find tai chi gatherings and events. Meetup has a variety of related topic groups, including Qi Gong, Tai Chi Push Hands and more.

Resources for Self-Taught Tai Chi

To learn tai chi on your own, Tai Chi Ball Qigong has a variety of books, DVDs and other resources available for purchase for all levels of practice.

For tai chi videos you can watch online, Tai Chi School is one of the most comprehensive resources on the web. They have a number of tutorials on beginner techniques like silk reeling, Qigong breathing and standing meditation.

A Lifelong Practice

Unlike other exercise routines, tai chi is a practice you adopt for life. Tai Chi Club says tai chi can be practiced in all aspects of daily life, whether you’re sweeping, driving, shoveling or engaging in other daily tasks:

“Once you learn the basics of Tai Chi, you can practice anytime, anywhere.”

images by: Gianni Crestani, Panayota, Ulrich Prümm

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