In the ever-evolving fitness landscape, tai chi has withstood the tests of time due to its gentle yet powerful approach to holistic well-being. Originating in ancient China, tai chi has captivated people of all ages for centuries, with particular popularity among older adults. For people with osteopenia and osteoporosis, tai chi can be especially transformative, offering an array of physical, mental, and emotional benefits while also serving to strengthen the bones.
Tai chi is a wonderful, gentle and low-impact exercise that can help you improve your balance, flexibility, strength and well-being. Considered a form of Chinese martial arts, tai chi has become a popular fitness practice for people who have been diagnosed with low bone density, because it is a weight-bearing exercise that can help improve bone strength while simultaneously reducing one’s risks of falls.
In this article, we will explore the myriad ways in which tai chi’s harmonious movements and mindful principles empower people to build bone and improve balance, all while finding a renewed sense of vitality and inner peace.
What is tai chi?
Tai chi is often described as a "moving meditation." It involves a series of slow, flowing movements that are designed to improve balance, flexibility, and strength. But beyond that, it is intended to help one connect with their body, breath and movement, improving awareness of all three while teaching the body to be fluid rather than stiff, and soft yet strong. Tai chi has a long history in ancient Chinese medicine and is often practiced alongside qi gong, another Chinese movement practice.
Why is tai chi good for you?
There are many proven health benefits of tai chi. It's a low-impact form of exercise that's easy on your joints, making it a good option for people with osteoporosis and osteopenia. Tai chi has been shown to improve mental health, blood pressure, and back pain (NIH, 2022). It can also be beneficial for people with heart failure, fibromyalgia and many chronic diseases (NIH, 2022).
Tai chi is a form of exercise that helps improve balance, which is important for everyone as they age, but it is especially important for people with osteoporosis and osteopenia who are more prone to fractures with falls (Sherrington, 2020). In addition, when you perform tai chi, you're encouraged to engage in deep breathing, creating a low to moderate intensity aerobic workout that benefits both your mind and your body.
Tai chi and balance
Tai chi can help improve balance, making it particularly beneficial for people at higher risk of falls or fractures. This is because tai chi incorporates a variety of weight-shifting movements and poses that challenge the body's balance systems. Regular practice of tai chi has been shown to improve muscle strength, coordination, and flexibility, all of which contribute to better balance control, as well (Sherrington, 2020). Additionally, tai chi helps to cultivate body awareness and mindfulness, allowing you to better detect and adjust your body's position in space.
Here are a few specifics on how tai chi exercises help improve balance:
- Tai chi movements involve weight-shifting from one leg to another, which challenges the body's ability to maintain balance. Practicing these weight shifts can help improve overall body control.
- Tai chi also involves holding various poses and movements for extended periods of time. This can help to improve muscle strength and endurance, particularly in the legs and core, which are important for maintaining balance.
- Tai chi movements require a high level of coordination and body awareness, which can help to improve proprioception (the ability to sense the position and movement of one's body in space) and balance control.
- Tai chi incorporates slow, deliberate movements and deep breathing, which can help to reduce stress and anxiety. These psychological benefits may also indirectly improve balance by reducing the negative effects of stress on the body, such as muscle tension and impaired focus.
- Regular practice of tai chi has been shown to reduce the risk of falls in older adults, and may also improve balance in people with certain medical conditions, such as Parkinson's disease (NIH, 2022).
Tai chi for beginners
If you're interested in learning tai chi, there are many resources available to help you get started. Basic tai chi involves a series of slow, flowing movements that are easy to follow, but it is best to learn them directly from an instructor who is versed in the nuances of the practice. You can start with some simple warm-up exercises to get your body ready for tai chi, or tai chi can be used as the warmup for other exercises. Tai chi can be practiced in classes led by trained instructors or through full video tutorials that are available online. It is a form of exercise that you can do at any time of day and at any age, so it is easy to incorporate it into your daily routine.
Here are three tai chi exercises for beginners:
If you can’t wait to try tai chi for yourself, we understand! Below, you will find three tai chi exercises from Wellen’s exercises library that will help you get a sense of what to expect, and how these exercises make you feel.
1. Gathering chi
Gathering Chi is designed to help you focus your mind and energy while also stretching your body. It involves slow, fluid movements that help to improve your balance and coordination, while also promoting relaxation and mindfulness. The exercise is performed by bringing your hands together in front of your chest, then slowly pushing your arms out and down while simultaneously bending your knees and lowering your body. This motion helps to open up your chest and promote deep breathing, which can be beneficial for reducing stress and anxiety. "Gathering Chi" is a great exercise to incorporate into your tai chi practice, and can be done as a standalone exercise or as part of a larger tai chi routine.
2. Heel slides
Heel Slides is a tai chi exercise that improves flexibility and balance in the lower body. This motion involves shifting your weight from one leg to the other, while simultaneously sliding your heel along the ground. Heel slides stretch the muscles in your legs, hips, and lower back, and enhance balance and stability. It can be especially useful for people with arthritis or other joint conditions, as it can alleviate stiffness and joint pain. Besides the physical benefits, heel slides can also promote relaxation and mental focus.
3. Tame the tiger
Tame the Tiger builds strength, flexibility, and balance in your lower body. It comprises a sequence of slow, controlled movements that simulate the actions of a tiger - crouching, leaping, and clawing. This motion strengthens your legs, enhances balance and coordination, and is particularly useful for people recovering from injury or illness. The gentle movements of "Tame the Tiger" can help to improve flexibility, reduce stiffness in the joints, and promote relaxation and mental focus.
While one article cannot possibly cover the intricacies of this beautiful movement practice, your major takeaway should be that tai chi is a gentle, safe and accessible low-impact exercise that has numerous health benefits. It is an excellent option for people with conditions such as osteoporosis and osteopenia, as it is both enjoyable and effective, and has been widely practiced for hundreds of years.
Tai chi is an excellent exercise option for people of all ages and fitness levels. Whether you prefer in-person tai chi lessons or virtual instruction, it is a great way to improve your health and well-being while staying active and engaged in your daily life. So, if you’re ready for more, gather your chi, tame your inner tiger, and slide your way to better balance with Wellen’s personalized exercise program, which incorporates tai chi exercises into each workout to help you achieve improved strength, balance, posture and overall well-being.