"Meditation in motion" is a phrase that's often used to describe tai chi. For seniors, the focused, low-impact movements can help clear the mind, just like meditation. Older adults can also experience many other benefits from this type of exercise, including increased strength, improved mobility, better flexibility, and stronger immunity.
One of the best things about tai chi is that you can experience all these health perks without a large investment in special equipment. Plus, you don't need to have excellent coordination or strength to get started. You can even practice the movements in a chair. That adaptability is one reason why this practice is good exercise for seniors who may have physical limitations.
What Is Tai Chi?
Tai chi is an "internal" martial art that originated in China centuries ago. It's considered internal because the focus is on developing mental or spiritual strength instead of defeating an opponent through physical strength.
The basic principles originate in the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism. Under the tenets of Taoism, everything is composed of two opposing (but complementary) elements: yin and yang.
- Yin elements are feminine, soft, and yielding.
- Yang elements are masculine, hard, and rigid.
According to Taoism, to achieve a peaceful and long life, we need to balance these sides within ourselves. The movements are designed to help you achieve this equilibrium between yin and yang. In other words, the "point" of tai chi is to restore balance in your body and your mind.
But if that explanation is a bit too esoteric for you, don't worry. In simpler terms, the gentle movements and focus on breathing can help you relax, get some light exercises, and develop body awareness.
In that sense, the discipline is like yoga. But the main difference between yoga and tai chi is that the latter exercise is based in movement and doesn't involve holding static poses. So, many people find that tai chi is better than yoga for seniors who can't stay in one position for very long.
But when it comes to determining which is best, yoga or tai chi, the choice ultimately depends on your personal preferences. And if you're not sure which activity you should try, it might also depend on whether you can find a good class. (Each discipline is best learned under a properly trained instructor.) But keep in mind that many seniors enjoy both activities.
The Benefits of Tai Chi
This is a whole-body exercise—and that includes your mind. As a result, it offers an astonishing number of physical and mental benefits. Tai chi is good for seniors because it can increase both your lifespan, which is how long you live, and your "health span," which is how long you can function independently.
In fact, when it comes to overall lifespan, a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that this activity can reduce mortality, much like jogging. (For many seniors, it is a much more appealing activity than jogging.)
Here are some of the many ways in which tai chi can improve your quality of life and reduce the negative effects of the aging process. (But bear in mind that you should always check with your healthcare provider before beginning any new exercise routine.)
1. Lower risk of falling
2. Relief from arthritis and various types of pain
3. Weight loss
4. Improved cardiovascular health
5. Better sleep
6. Enhanced posture
7. Improved immunity
8. Reduced anxiety and depression
9. Cognitive benefits
10. Social benefits