CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dear Cindy,
How will I benefit if I take tai chi? I am limited because I cannot do jumping movements or high impact exercise and thought this might be good. -- Mary Jean
Dear Mary Jean,
Ask someone what tai chi means and there will be answers like life force, air, vital energy, bioelectricity and so on.
However you describe this ancient Chinese art, it is generally thought of as meditation in motion because it promotes relaxation during movement. It is a soft form of martial arts and differs greatly from karate and kung fu, which are hard martial arts.
There are numerous benefits to be gained from practicing this graceful form of exercise because this precise practice emphasizes basic components of fitness: muscle strength, flexibility and balance.
How can it improve health?
At Harvard's Osher Research Center, Catherine Kerr has studied extensively the effects of mind-body exercise on the brain and believes that while we are still learning, the benefits are meaningful. Kerr is also an instructor at the Harvard Medical School. She has practiced tai chi for 15 years and says, "I'm stronger in my legs, more alert, more focused and more relaxed -- it just puts me in a better mood all around." She combines this type of movement with walking and adds that it makes her feel lighter on her feet.
Many other studies agree that tai chi is a valuable form of mind and body movement and a wise choice for older adults who are unable to participate in impact activity because of conditions such as frailty, joint stiffness or compromised balance. Tai chi guides you through a number of gentle, flowing movements within a complex, choreographed motor sequence creating a low-intensity aerobic experience. Therefore, it stimulates both the physical body and mental capacity.
Who should take tai chi?