The Health Benefits of Tai Chi

Man sitting in a traditional tai chi position with his arm in front of him in a circular position.
  • Health experts are beginning to acknowledge holistic approaches to medicine – such as tai chi – as legitimate complementary practices.
  • Tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice renowned for its numerous health benefits – both physical and mental.
  • Exploring the numerous health benefits of tai chi can help you to understand how integrating tai chi into your life can be beneficial to you.

What is Tai Chi?

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that is now used as an exercise to promote the mind and body. This practice dates all the way back to the Zhou Dynasty – over 3,000 years ago. It is said that the father of tai chi was Zhang Shanfeng, a well-known Taoist priest with superhuman abilities.

Tai chi is suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels. The slow movements associated with this practice are gentle on the body, while still activating and stretching the muscles.

There are five styles of tai chi, all of which differ in speed, force of movement, and internal emphasis. There isn’t a right or wrong way to practice tai chi, and finding the style that best suits you can increase the benefits.

Principles of tai chi

Tai chi means “supreme ultimate” which refers to the immeasurable extent of the earth and the harmony within it. Tai chi serves to strengthen the muscles while recharging the mind. The contrast of strength and tranquility represents yin and yang, an ancient Chinese concept used for describing the beauty of opposition.

The core principles of tai chi are movement control, body structure, and internal components. The combination of these three facets of practice enable the mind and body to unify to reach a higher level of serenity.

Physical Health Benefits of Tai Chi

Tai chi has many cardiovascular benefits; it may help with improving circulation, lowering blood pressure, and increasing physical and mental stamina. The physical focus of tai chi is on balance and stability.

Tai chi – though suitable for anyone – can especially be helpful for:

  • Seniors

  • Pregnant women

  • People living with severe osteoporosis or other joint problems

  • Bone fracture repair

  • Those with cancer

In older adults, tai chi has been shown to improve balance and reduce the fear of falling, providing the confidence and autonomy that can sometimes be lost in later years.

Tai chi can enhance muscle strength, coordination, and posture. A study published on the effect of tai chi on muscle strength, physical endurance, postural balance, and flexibility concluded that improvements in handgrip strength, spine flexibility, walking distance, and balance were all present in older people and people with chronic conditions (such as osteoarthritis, COPD, or fibromyalgia) who practiced tai chi regularly.

Mom and her son doing tai chi in a garden.

Mental Health Benefits of Tai Chi

Tai chi suggests an emphasis on mindfulness while engaged in its physical movements, which can result in more benefits than exercise alone. Taking the time to clear your mind and focusing on activating your muscles improves concentration, enhances memory, and promotes overall cognitive function.

A study that was conducted to measure memory function – specifically verbal working memory – found that tai chi could be considered beneficial to older adults with memory decline.

Tai chi is also acknowledged as having stress-reducing effects. Since it targets cognitive function through its meditative components, tai chi has the ability to calm the mind, reduce anxiety, and promote relaxation.

Research has linked tai chi to improved sleep quality and increased energy levels. Because tai chi focuses on breathing and bettering the mind-body connection, it stimulates the release of neurohormones that boost recovery and promote deep states of relaxation. This can serve as an effective treatment for insomnia and those with poor sleep quality.

Additional Benefits and Practical Tips

Practicing tai chi can boost the immune system, leading to better overall health. The longer you practice tai chi, the stronger the positive effects are on your body. Cytokines – the proteins that control the growth of immune system cells – become regulated with continuous mind-body therapeutic practices, such as tai chi.

Social benefits

Tai chi also offers social benefits, as classes are usually offered in large groups. These classes foster a sense of belonging and support in older-age communities. They can also connect people living with similar health conditions that may feel isolated or alone.

Four older adults practicing tai chi on a grassy field.

Learning More About Tai Chi

Tai chi can be a useful addition to your life in improving your overall health. It may benefit you to incorporate tai chi into your daily routine and personalize your practice based on your specific needs and goals.

It is important to remember that tai chi should be practiced in the way that best suits you: it shouldn’t be something that adds extra stress to your life. Starting slowly, focusing on your posture, and entering the meditative state of tai chi can enable you to experience your practice in a way that relaxes you.

Find a qualified instructor who has been certified with the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association (ATCQA) and who makes you feel comfortable. With consistency and patience, you may begin to notice the long-term benefits that tai chi can offer.

It’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor about integrating tai chi into your life. Make an appointment with LifeMD to continue learning about how tai chi and other complementary therapies may be helpful for you.

Dr. Anthony Puopolo

Dr. Puopolo holds a B.A. in Biology from Tufts University, M.A. in Biology from Boston University, and Doctor of Medicine from the Boston University School of Medicine. He also completed a Family Medicine and Psychiatry residency program in the U.S. Army.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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