Long ago, the series of movements called tai chi originated in China as a form of martial arts.
Today, instead of being used to fight human enemies, tai chi’s easy-to-learn, graceful, steady motions are mainly used to fight off aging.
Here are some of the practical benefits of this popular meditative exercise.
Although tai chi’s slow movements don’t seem to require much exertion, research shows that it produces significant health benefits. It can bring on changes in the body that push back against the aches, pains and physical problems that beset us with the passing years.
More Stem Cells
A study in Asia shows that doing tai chi can lead to more circulating stem cells as indicated by CD34+ proliferating in your blood.1 According to the researchers, CD34+ is a marker that shows an increase in blood stem cells – cells that improve the regeneration of worn out cells while adding to the creation of new cells. (Vigorous exercise can have a similar benefit.)
Compared to other physical activity that improves stem cells, the scientists point out, “Tai chi seems to be an easier and more convenient choice of anti-aging exercise.”
Other research shows tai chi has an impressive effect against one of the most common problems of aging – chronic pain.
A six-month study at Tufts University found that doing tai chi once a week significantly helps people cope with the aches and pains of fibromyalgia, a long-term chronic condition that produces discomfort in many body areas.2 The researchers note that fibromyalgia, which strikes up to one out of 25 people, leads to extreme fatigue, stiff muscles, insomnia and depression.
Doctors typically recommend aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, biking and swimming to help ease the pain of fibromyalgia. But many people have trouble keeping up with that type of exercise program and can’t stick with it.
However, because tai chi is much easier on the body than other types of activities, the researchers found it was easier for the people in the study – whose average age was 52. The researchers conclude, “Compared with aerobic exercise, the most commonly prescribed non-drug treatment, tai chi appears as effective as or better for managing fibromyalgia.”
Better Brain Aging
There’s also pretty solid evidence that tai chi helps your brain age better, too. In a study at Harvard, scientists did brain scans on people who took part in a three-month tai chi program. It turned out the exercise program produced improvements in a part of the brain called the posterior cingulate gyrus. This section of the brain is essential for understanding your own emotions and controlling your behavior. Studies indicate it plays a key role in recalling important events in your life, planning for the future and brainstorming new ideas.3
According to the Harvard researchers, tai chi helps maintain plasticity of the neurons in this part of the brain, boosts both memory and learning abilities, and revs up the function of mitochondria – a cell’s “energy factories” – in leg muscles.4
Other benefits of tai chi include:
- Improving your breathing function when you have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) – In research involving 120 people with COPD, 12 weeks of using tai chi improved their respiratory abilities.5
- Reducing the risk of falls as you get older – A review study performed in Spain shows that because tai chi improves flexibility and balance control, it can reduce the chance of harmful and fatal falls in the elderly by up to 50 percent.6
- Lowering blood pressure and potentially reducing the chances of suffering a stroke.7
Experts recommend taking part in tai chi while maintaining a meditative, relaxed state of mind. I believe that’s important since most of us seem to be stressed out so much of the time.
Another note: While you can certainly learn tai chi by following an instruction video, you can get the best results from finding a tai chi class located near you. The type of companionship you get in a class is more fun – and fun is a health-booster too!