Many health experts tout the benefits of tai chi for seniors who have lost mobility and steadiness with age. The ancient Chinese mind-body exercise emphasizes slow, measured movements with little impact on the joints and bones.
Research suggests the sturdy posturing, meditation, and breathing techniques of tai chi improve a variety of senior health concerns, including hand-eye coordination, knee and back pain, flexibility, and muscle strength.
Furthermore, tai chi exercises for seniors have been shown to boost quality of life for patients with cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
A 2016 study found that tai chi and similar exercises could even help reduce high cholesterol and high blood pressure in those with heart disease.
Let’s take a closer look at the many tai chi benefits for seniors.
Benefits of Tai Chi Exercises for Seniors
1. Increases Flexibility
- Fluid bodyweight exercises lead the body through wide ranges of motion.
- Tai chi increases a mind-body connection so that there is more awareness of how you occupy space.
- Can be performed in many different positions from sitting to standing.
- Movements loosen up the joints and muscles so that they can move more freely and further.
- Most classes start out with a warm-up period to maximize movement.
2. Improved and Maintained Balance
- The steady technique promotes better body control and proprioception (body awareness).
- The slow, fluid movements allow a connection to be made between mind and muscle.
- Greater awareness and control over muscles improves strength and movement patterns.
- Studies have shown reductions in falls for at-risk populations.
- A 2005 study lasting 12 weeks showed that tai chi reduced falls and improved mobility in an older, fall-prone cohort, compared to those who did no activity.
- Numerous studies have shown the same results.
3. Improves Muscle Strength
- Tai chi may be better for strength than yoga because muscles are held in contractile positions in addition to stretching
- Promotes a strong core (abdominals, obliques, and lower back) that contribute to improved balance, mobility, and overall strength
- Incorporates movements like leg lunges, squats, twists and kicks that can build muscle
4. Helps in Chronic Conditions—Cancer, Heart Failure, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
- A 2015 meta-analysis found that tai chi improved cancer, osteoarthritis, heart failure, and obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Tai chi was noted to improve physical performance outcomes, not the conditions themselves.
- It is not a primary form of treatment; rather, it can improve mobility and quality of life during treatment.
- Can help with heart disease by improving oxygen delivery.
5. Reduces Anxiety Stress and Depression
- There is plenty of research supporting the mental health benefits of tai chi.
- Regardless of the tests being done, participants in tai chi groups seem to unanimously report feeling better and less anxious.
- Studies have shown benefits for depression, stress management, and self-efficacy.
- It is a meditative and mindful activity to take the mind off stressors.
- Features deep breathing, which is also shown to reduce stress.
- Promotes blood flow.
6. Enhance Bone Health and Reduce Inflammation
- A 2011 study showed that tai chi improved health and reduced inflammation in post-menopausal women when used with a daily intake of green tea.
- Most forms of exercise can reduce blood flow and overall inflammation; however low-intensity may work best.
- Research has shown tai chi can boost the activity of helper T-cells, which play an important role in immune response. The same study showed that it helped with immune response and lowered inflammatory markers.
7. Reduces Arthritis and Osteoarthritis Pain
Multiple studies have shown that tai chi can provide positive effects for people suffering pain caused by various forms of arthritis.
- Can improve joint mobility and pain management
- Can lower inflammation.
- Has been noted to improve quality of life in people suffering from these conditions.
- Research indicates that it can work as well as physical therapy for physical symptoms and providing enhanced benefits for depressive symptoms for people with osteoarthritis (OA).
8. Reduces Blood Pressure
- Studies have shown tai chi to be an effective method for reducing blood pressure.
- May drop systolic (the top number) pressure by 9 millimeters of mercury (mmHg), and diastolic pressure by 5 mmHg.
- The results were found over 12 weeks of tai chi classes among sedentary adults, however, so the results could have been due to the increased activity.
9. May Improve Type 2 Diabetes
- Muscle activation can improve insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake.
- Studies have shown that tai chi can help insulin sensitivity in people with metabolic syndrome.
Tai Chi Warm-Up Exercises for Seniors
If you’ve never done tai chi before, it’s highly advised that you enroll in an introductory class with an experienced, certified instructor. As with any form of exercise, the benefits will only be experienced with proper technique and execution.
Every class will likely begin with a warm-up to loosen up the joints and muscles, so there are a few things you can do to make it a little easier.
- Wearing loose, comfortable clothing and well-fitting shoes.
- Going for a short walk first to get the blood flowing (gently shake your legs and hands and clench and unclench your fists)
- Taking a hot shower
As part of your warm up, you should:
- Move within your comfort range and avoid forcing movements that cause pain
- Stick to 70% of your range of motion until you’re experienced. Increase it gradually.
- Massage yourself, including your shoulders, lower back, legs, ankles, and feet. Rub your hands together throughout for warmth and a “qi” boost.
Some common warm up exercises are:
- Arm rotations: Retract your scapula (pull shoulder blades together) and put your arms out to your sides, parallel to the floor. With your chest tall, move your arms in small circles, slowly making them bigger. This will loosen up the shoulders.
- Back twists: Twist from side to side, keeping your hips facing forward and your feet firmly planted. Go slow.
- Forward lunge: Step forward with one leg, stretching the hamstring. Let your knee come out over your foot and hold it for a few moments before doing the other leg. This will stretch thighs, knees, ankles, quadriceps, hamstrings, and lower back. Switch legs until feeling loose.
- Forward-backward bend: Stand straight with your hands on your hips, exhale and bend forward to stretch your spine and the backs of your legs. Return to standing, exhale, and bend backward to stretch your chest and abs. These bends can both calm and stimulate the nervous system and circulate blood to your head and face.
- Lumbar rub: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, or sit on the edge of a steady chair, and raise your shirt high enough to expose your lower back. Next, rapidly rub your hands together until they become hot. Quickly place your hands on either side of your lower spine, and firmly rub your lower back and sacrum.
Tai Chi Exercises for Beginners
As you move through tai chi and become more experienced, the moves increase in complexity and difficulty. This is why finding a beginner class is so essential.
A few weeks of getting the basics right will set you up for more intricate movements and combinations.
But here are some things you can expect to learn from the very beginning:
- Keep feet on the ground shoulder-width apart.
- Point toes slightly inward with knees slightly bent.
- Maintain slightly hallowed chest and chin, with hips tucked.
- Almost like sitting on a high stool
- Step in order to move from one position to the next.
- Perform in a rolling motion.
- Place feet one in front of the other with equal weight distribution.
- Keep center of gravity low while stepping and rolling your entire foot until both are flat on the ground.
- Use to begin or finish a movement or position.
- Rub your hands together and pull them apart, bringing them close together once again without allowing them to touch.
- The warmth you feel between your hands is known as “qi.”
Withdraw and Push:
- Use to “cleanse the body.”
- Move forward and backward like a wave.
- Start with one foot in front of the other and weight on the back leg.
- Slowly circle hands upward in wave motion, lifting your back heel and rolling your weight forward.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Stretch your arms forward and upward, to the height of your shoulders and parallel to the floor.
- Spread out your hands as wide as possible and rotate your wrists both clockwise and counterclockwise.
- Stand with your knees slightly bent and your feet about three inches apart.
- Put your hands on your knees and point your fingers toward each other.
- Rotate your knees in a circle clockwise and then counter-clockwise.
- This move will boost flexibility in your knees and spine and develop your balance.
Ward Off/Roll Back:
- Shift your weight onto your left leg and turn left at your waist.
- Bend your right arm as if you were holding a ball against your chest.
- Curve your left arm downward (as you lift your fingers), before slowly raising it up again to shoulder height.
- Use to encourage relaxation and stillness, as well as to balance your qi.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, relax your arms, and raise your hands to pelvis height (cupped with palms up).
- Close your eyes, inhale, and raise your hands to your chest (picture your energy traveling upward along with your hands).
- Exhale, rotate your wrists, and face the palms downward as you push them toward the ground.
Tai Chi Exercise Benefits Seniors
Tai chi may be one of the best exercises to adopt if you’re a senior dealing with chronic illness. Its low-impact, relaxing, and mindful style helps improve balance, mood, and more while giving you a major opportunity to increase your quality of life.
- The Top 5 Tai Chi Benefits for Older Adults
- How Tai Chi Could Help Prevent Falls among Seniors
- Tai Chi Reduces Inflammation: Can It Prevent Cancer, Stroke & Heart Disease?
- Tai Chi May Improve Physical Capacity in Chronic Conditions: Study
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