Tai chi is a gentle form of exercise that originated in ancient China as a martial art. Seniors with health conditions and mobility issues may find tai chi especially beneficial because it focuses on slow, graceful movements rather than the high-impact workouts that characterize many other exercise programs. All seniors should check with their doctors before pursuing tai chi, or any other form of fitness.
There are more than 100 movements and postures associated with different styles of tai chi. These flow together so that when a person practices tai chi, he or she engages in gentle stretching and constant motion, which can help condition the muscles and joints. This is particularly helpful for seniors who often suffer from arthritis and other bone, muscle, and joint problems.
Tai chi for seniors is extremely helpful in promoting proper posture and good balance. Elderly people often suffer falls that break bones or damage internal organs. Tai chi can help promote an individual’s awareness of his or her body and help teach techniques to stay balanced, which can decrease the risk of falls.
Many elderly people also have difficulty with basic daily movements, like walking and bending. Tai chi for seniors can help condition the joints and muscles, helping retrain the body how to move when performing basic motor functions. In 2001, a study conducted by the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene, Oregon found that seniors who took one-hour tai chi classes twice a week reported that it was easier to do daily physical activities than other seniors who did not receive such instruction.
Tai chi for seniors can help reduce symptoms and problems from many age-related conditions. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a division of the United States' National Institutes of Health (NIH), supports the use of tai chi to prevent bone loss in women who have gone through menopause, and to reduce depression in the elderly. The NCCAM also recommends tai chi to help reduce pain and symptoms associated with cancer and chronic heart failure.
Most elderly people get the best benefits from tai chi when attending a class led by an experienced instructor. Once a person learns how to do the appropriate movements and postures, he or she can practice alone, but attending tai chi for seniors classes can help people stay motivated, and provide an environment for positive social interaction. Learning tai chi from a video or book is possible, but it is much easier to learn the correct movements, that will provide the maximum benefits, when working in an instructor-led environment.