The Importance of Exercise in Older Age
With increasing life expectancies, it is becoming more important for people to take up some form of exercise to ensure that they can remain active in their retirement.
Tai Chi Chuan is a gentle but energetic form of exercise, which not only improves physical health and fitness, as proved in this research, but has also been shown to improve mental health and well-being.
What Is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi Chuan is a “soft” style of kung-fu. Its roots are very much in martial arts and many people still train tai chi as a form of self defence. The applications of the movements are very effective in combat situations, although a good grounding in “hard” styles of kung-fu (or other styles) is really required.
Many people today learn tai chi as a form of gentle exercise. There is some debate over how effective this is and how it compares to other ways of staying fit and strong. Yang Ma Lee, the grand daughter of Yang Chen-Fu who helped to popularize the Yang system of Tai Chi (Yang Chen Fu was the grandson of Yang Lu-chan, the founder of they Yang family style), has said that without learning the martial part of tai chi you lose out on most of the health benefits.
Where to Learn Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is now very widespread and there are usually classes in most larger towns and cities. The easiest way to find a classes is to search Google Maps for “tai chi” or “tai chi classes” or “tai chi schools”.
Tai Chi and Health Research
Researchers at the National Taiwan University Hospital carried out a study on the health and fitness of elderly people who practice Tai Chi Chuan.
The study compared 20 men and women between the ages of 58 and 70 who had been practicing Tai Chi Chuan about 4 times per week for an average of 11 months.
Each session would last just under an hour on average, with a 20 minute warm-up, 24 minutes of Tai Chi Chuan practice (e.g. form) and a 10 minute cool down. The exercise intensity was 52.63% of the heart rate range. Cardiorespiratory function, strength, flexibility, and percent of body fat were evaluated before and at the end of this study.
The Tai chi practitioners were compared to a control group of 18 men and women of similar age, who did not practice Tai Chi Chuan.
The results indicate that a 12-month Tai Chi Chuan program is effective for improving health fitness of the elderly.
The male Tai chi group showed improved strength and flexibility in the chest and lower back. Also knee joint strength and flexibility improved.
The female group showed greater improvements in strength and flexibility than the males. The control group showed no change during the study.
The study proved that regular Tai Chi Chuan training improved muscular strength and flexibility in the elderly, with improvements to general physical health.
Tai Chi Cuts Arthritic Pain By Half
In a recent study researchers at Tufts University in Massachusetts found that patients that suffer from arthritis respond very well to a course in Tai Chi Chuan.
After just 12 weeks or learning and practicing Tai Chi every day, subjects experienced much less pain. In the study patients also did traditional stretching exercises, and these did not perform too well. In fact they described Tai Chi as being significantly better at pain management.
Tai Chi Chuan (or just Tai Chi) is practiced by millions of people all around the world for its health, mental benefits and its martial arts training. Tai Chi Chuan is the martial form (the original form) of Tai Chi.
The soft flowing movements (form) of Tai Chi are in fact fighting and self-defense applications that are designed to condition the body and train it to respond to an opponent, to feel an opponent’s movement and intention, to make them a better fighter.
Yang Mar Lee, granddaughter of Yang Chen Fu, one of modern Tai Chi’s founders, teaches that without the martial training, most of the health benefits of Tai Chi are lost. This always comes as a great surprise to people that have only learned the form, and never had any martial training.
Previous studies had suggested that Tai Chi could be useful in treating arthritis, but they were never conclusive. The recent research was carried out on people with arthritic knees, which is a very painful form of arthritis that affects thousands of people. It is most common in elderly people.
“Our observations emphasize a need to further evaluate the biologic mechanisms and approaches of Tai Chi to extend its benefits to a broader population.” Dr Chenchen Wang, Research Leader.
Not only did 12 weeks of Tai Chi training help people cope with pain, but they also felt less depressed and more agile than previously, and were generally happier with life in general.
Tai Chi hands photo by shenanagans
“Tai Chi is Effective in Treating Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Controlled Trial” by Chenchen Wang, MD, MSc. Christopher H. Schmid, PhD, Patricia L. Hibberd, MD, PhD, Robert Kalish, MD, Ronenn Roubenoff, MD, MHS, Ramel Rones, BS, and Timothy McAlindon, MD, MPH. Arthritis Rheum. 2009 November 15; 61(11): 1545–1553.
“12-month Tai Chi training in the elderly: its effect on health fitness” by Lan C, Lai JS, Chen SY, Wong MK. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998 Mar;30(3):345-51.