Tai chi, an ancient form of martial art that is also a healing therapy, is a very popular exercise in China. Especially for older adults. Over the past 20 years, it has gained popularity here, too, as a way of improving balance, preventing falls, and relaxing. Many smaller studies have addressed tai chi in Western journals, and they have consistently found that it can provide major health benefits.
But the evidence is relatively weak, not because tai chi is ineffective, but instead because trying to measure its benefits is difficult. For example, tai chi is believed to improve your overall health and enhance your immune system, but this is extremely hard to prove. Still, there are some generally accepted and partially proven abilities of tai chi. The exercise therapy appears to have these direct results on your body:
1. Improved mobility: Tai chi conditions the body into being able to walk more efficiently and for longer distances. Tai chi does this by building stronger knees and ankles through its dance-like movements, improving balance, and also making you more flexible.
2. Lower risk of falling: By improving balance, tai chi decreases the risk of an older adult falling and possibly suffering a bone fracture, other injury, or even death. Falling is a big problem, because time spent lying in a hospital bed can increase your risk of pneumonia, depression and osteoporosis. About five studies have concluded this lower risk of falling, making it the one certifiable ability of tai chi. Not only does it reduce falls, but it makes people more confident in their step.
3. Better cardiovascular health: Though not many studies have substantiated this, tai chi could make your ticker stronger. As a form of moderate exercise itself, tai chi conditions the heart and improves its pumping prowess. That, as a result, leads to other benefits such as increased flow of nutrients and oxygen to tissues and muscles across the body.
4. Prevents high blood pressure, heart disease: These seem like two tall orders, but science has found that it may be possible. When you age, your sympathetic nervous system gets more activated. This has been linked to hypertension and heart disease. Twenty minutes of tai chi a day has been found to decrease sympathetic activity significantly. It wasn’t just physical activity; there was something else at work.
5. Better sleep: Among tai chi’s reputed benefits is enhanced sleep for people who suffer sleep disturbances. Tai chi’s relaxing effects and gentle nature may offset the anxious nature of insomnia.