Tai Chi’s health benefits

Lesley Dobson / 28 September 2015

Why practising Tai Chi could help if you have a long-term health condition.

While we all know that exercise is good for our health, getting out and doing something quite active, such as walking or jogging, can be difficult for people with some chronic health conditions.

So it’s great news that a study, from the University of British Columbia, Canada, looking at the benefits of practising Tai Chi, has found that it can help older adults with a number of conditions improve their physical abilities.

Tai Chi was originally a martial art, dating from 13th-century China. It is now popular around the world as a mild form of exercise, focusing on gentle movements and deep breathing.These are aimed at boosting your balance, muscle power and posture. Relaxation and mindfulness are also part of this discipline.

Read more about Tai Chi

The aim of this study was to find out how beneficial Tai Chi is for common long-term conditions in older people with:

Specifically, those behind the study wanted to find out whether doing Tai Chi helped to relieve symptoms and improve physical capacity and quality of life in all of these long-term conditions.

The researchers carried out their work using information from existing studies published up to 2014.

They looked at the results of studies on the use of Tai Chi by people in their mid-50s to their early 70s, who were affected by one or more of the four conditions. Tai Chi training in these studies generally lasted for an average of one hour per session, with sessions usually two to three times a week. Training was, on average, over a period of 12 weeks.

The results showed that doing Tai Chi was associated with or linked to improvement in physical capacity and muscle strength in most or all of the conditions.

It was also linked to improvement in pain and stiffness symptoms in people with osteoarthritis, and improvements in breathlessness in those people with COPD.

This provides more backing for the findings of earlier research in this area. It’s also a reminder of the possible benefits of Tai Chi for those of us who have a number of long-term conditions.

This study is published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

How Tai Chi helps your health

This gentle form of exercise is suitable for people with different levels of fitness, and of all ages.

Tai chi involves gentle movements that flow gracefully from one pose to another, encouraging you to breathe deeply, stretch and relax, while moving slowly but constantly.

Tai Chi is believed to bring other health benefits, including:

  • reducing stress and depression
  • improving your flexibility
  • balance
  • muscle strength
  • energy levels

And there is research that suggests that Tai Chi can help with rheumatoid arthritis, and may help improve balance, and increase the strength of your leg muscles, but more work needs to be carried out before these benefits can be confirmed. 

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