Tai Chi – Therapeutic for Life

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Tai Chi Chuan is a traditional Chinese martial art that is mainly practiced today for its health and longevity benefits. In the first Tai Chi class I took, about 15 years ago, I met a woman who stated that practicing these gentle, fluid movements had normalized her high blood pressure. Since so many people the world over have experienced remarkable health benefits from practicing Tai Chi, it has become a focused area of medical research in recent years.

Reduces Blood Pressure and Elevated Blood Sugar  

In 2008, The Journal of Preventive Cardiology published a review conducted by Harvard Medical School in Boston. They examined 26 separate studies on the effects of Tai Chi and concluded that it is able to significantly reduce blood pressure.

The University of Queensland in Australia published a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that same year which showed that Tai Chi effected significant reductions in blood sugar and improvements in other disease biomarkers including elevated blood pressure.

Improves Immune Response and Reduces Inflammation

Tai Chi has also been found to significantly increase several indicators of immune function and reduce inflammation during programs of 12 weeks or more. Inflammation commonly accompanies suppression of immune response and both are primary factors in the development of most types of chronic, degenerative disease such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Stress Management

In 2007, The Medical Science Monitor published a study which examined the power of these gentle exercises to relieve stress. Researchers from Coburg University in Germany found that a daily Tai Chi session significantly reduced stress biomarkers.

It was also found that participants were considerably healthier in both mind and body after practicing Tai Chi on a regular basis. Stress releases harmful hormones and alters body chemistry in detrimental ways. Therefore, exercise that alleviates this daily insult will naturally impact both mental and physical health.

Preventive for Osteoporosis

A 2007 review of six studies into the effect of these exercises on bone mineral density found that “Tai Chi may be an effective, safe, and practical intervention for maintaining bone mineral density in postmenopausal women.” This was published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Endorsement by US Healthcare

An extensive analysis of over 200 studies published in The American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, titled “Comprehensive Therapeutic Benefits of Tai Chi: A Critical Review,” summarized today’s medical posture regarding Tai Chi. The authors stated, “Controlled research evidence was found to confirm therapeutic benefits of Tai Chi practice with regard to improving quality of life, physical function including activity tolerance and cardiovascular function, pain management, balance and fall risk reduction, enhancing immune response, and improving flexibility, strength, and kinesthetic sense.”

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Tai Chi Moving for Better Balance

A scientist at the Oregon Research Institute, Fuzhong Li, PhD, developed a program called Tai Chi Moving for Better Balance (TCMBB), a simplified 8-form routine which was first implemented in 2004. His research with participant groups reveals that a regular practice is able to reduce fall risk by approximately 50% in persons not previously exercising regularly. This is more than any other form of physical activity, including yoga, aerobics or resistance training.

TCMBB has been endorsed by the Centers of Disease Control and the National Council on Aging. The program is administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Workshops are delivered via two 1-hour sessions each week for 12 weeks. These are currently available free of charge in many communities to persons 60 years of age and older. The promotion of this form of Tai Chi is part of a national effort to reduce the burden of Medicare costs directly related to fall injuries, now running at over $25 billion annually.

The program has been an outstanding success as students invariably find the movements easy and enjoyable to learn and perform. Attendees leave feeling refreshed and having greater freedom of movement. A pre and post physical activity assessment gives data regarding attendees’ improvements in physical functionality that is useful to both class members and the governing agencies.

Local Classes

In Gainesville, Florida where I live, TCMBB workshops are constantly being offered through our Area Agency on Aging, Elder Options. I teach in the NW area of town. At the Senior Center there are always classes in session as well as an informal group of former TCMBB attendees that meet to practice the form a couple afternoons a week.

For more information on upcoming classes and pre-registration, you can contact either the administrator of Elder Options, Betty Flagg at (352) 692-5219 or Liz Dalusio at 692-5252. Email inquiries to flaggb@agingresources.org. Try and class and experience the benefits in your own health and well-being!

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