More and more people are turning to the martial art tai chi for stress management and as a form of exercise. In tai chi, the body is in constant motion. The movements—more than 100—are designed to be graceful and rhythmic and can, in conjunction with proper breathing techniques, help create a feeling of calm, leaving you untroubled, for the moment, by distressing thoughts.
Tai chi is inexpensive and versatile. It uses no equipment, doesn’t require any particular setting, and can be done alone or in groups. You don’t need to find a studio or a class, but at the same time, if you want to look for a class, there are a number, at a range of prices, in most areas. That means tai chi is great for someone who may not be able to go to a class regularly.
In addition to overall health, research has shown that tai chi offers some specific benefits. In a Chinese study, elderly people who did tai chi three times a week were found to have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The practice improved cognitive function and increased brain size over eight months.
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s are marked by decreases in brain tissue and connections between various parts. Activity that helps the brain grow thus staves off dementia.
Another health benefit of tai chi, according to Australian scientists, is in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. COPD often presents problems exercising because patients get out of breath quickly. Tai chi is one option for these people.
In fact, participants in the 12-week study showed improved endurance from two hours a week of sun-style tai chi. Balance and strength also improved. In addition, the patients reported better breathing and lessened anxiety after the sessions.
There are different styles of tai chi, at different levels of intensity. Some styles are fast and some are slow; some are better suited to people bringing more energy to the practice, some for people who may need something calmer. However, since tai chi is about technique, it’s suited to people who are unable to do other exercise programs.