My senior year of college, a friend and I signed up for a tai chi class offered on campus. We thought it would be an entertaining hour or two every week, and it gave us a few extra course credits. But a week or two in, I realized that the classes were actually something I really loved and valued as a part of my week. I looked forward to the few hours each week where I got to calm my mind and move my body at the same time.
If you’ve never tried tai chi before, I highly recommend it. Not only is it an enjoyable activity, but it is also a very healthy one; tai chi is proven to help numerous conditions and benefit your general health.
What is Tai Chi?
Tai chi is a branch of Chinese martial arts that consists of slow, flowing movements. When you practice tai chi, your whole body is involved; you are generally in a whole-body semi squat, doing continuous movements that flow from one position to the next. Along with this type of whole-body exercise, tai chi also involves concentrating on your breathing, focusing your mind, and relaxing.
There are many different styles of tai chi, each with different forms, routines, and approaches. These days, it is common to find tai chi classes that offer simplified forms that can be easily learned and modified for different skill and fitness levels.
Who Can Benefit from Tai Chi?
Tai chi is an excellent exercise for anyone. It is gentle and low-impact, but it also helps to improve strength, aerobic capacity, flexibility, and posture. So if you are looking for ways to diversify your workout routine, tai chi is well worth your while.
But tai chi can also be used as an effective therapy for a wide range of specific health conditions. A large review published in PLoS One in March 2015 found that 94.1% of the 507 studies on tai chi benefits reported positive effects. So what is tai chi good for?
1. Osteoarthritis. A recent meta-analysis showed that tai chi improved scores on a timed walking test, knee strength, and symptoms of pain and stiffness in people with osteoarthritis.
2. Parkinson’s disease. Tai chi is a good exercise option for people with Parkinson’s disease. One study found tai chi to improve postural stability and motor functions while reducing the rate of falls. Read more about tai chi and other exercises for Parkinson’s disease treatment here.
3. Heart disease. Tai chi can help lower the risk for heart disease; it may help lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and lipid levels, for example.
4. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Researchers reviewed eleven articles and found that people with COPD who practiced tai chi had better scores on tests rating respiratory symptoms, and they also performed better on a timed walking test. Overall, the study suggested beneficial effects for people with COPD.
5. Cognitive function. Tai chi is thought to be beneficial for cognition and brain health, as it involves not only exercise (which is good for the brain) but also spatial processing, attention, memory, and concentration. A review of nine studies showed that tai chi could improve things like global cognitive ability, attention, learning, memory, language, and other factors of good brain function in healthy adults.
6. Breast cancer. Research suggests that tai chi can be beneficial for women with breast cancer, as it can improve arm functional mobility, muscle strength, physical capacity, and other measures.[3,7]
Some other examples of conditions that can be helped by tai chi include rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, low back pain, diabetes, and more.
Older people, in particular, may find a lot of benefit in trying tai chi. It has been shown to prevent falls and improve sleep in seniors, for example. To read more about the specific benefits of tai chi in older populations, go here.
Take a tai chi class to experience the mental and physical benefits of tai chi.
I never expected to enjoy my tai chi class as much as I did. Ever since then, I have hoped to sign up for another class in my area so that I can once again experience the calm, yet energized feeling of this flowing, gentle exercise.
There aren’t many other activities that bring my stress levels down, quiet my mind, and keep my body strong all at the same time.
Search for tai chi classes in your area and sign up for one today. They can be found at community centers, and sometimes at yoga, dance, and martial arts studios. If you can’t find one near you, search online for guided videos to try tai chi in your own home.
 Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:502131.
 PLoS One. 2015 Mar 16;10(3):e0120655.
 Br J Sports Med. 2015 Sep 17. pii: bjsports-2014-094388.
 N Engl J Med. 2012 Feb 9;366(6):511-9.
 Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2014 Nov 7;9:1253-63.
 Am J Health Promot. 2015 Aug 25. [Epub ahead of print]
 Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:535237.
Natural Health Advisory Institute contributing editor Chelsea Clark is a writer with a passion for science, human biology, and natural health. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology with an emphasis in neuroscience from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. Her research on the relationship between chronic headache pain and daily stress levels has been presented at various regional, national, and international conferences. Chelsea’s interest in natural health has been fueled by her own personal experience with chronic medical issues. Her many profound experiences with natural health practitioners and remedies have motivated Chelsea to contribute to the world of natural health as a researcher and writer for Natural Health Advisory Institute. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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