Tai chi is a great way to tone the body and train the mind, and although the Chinese technique most often captures headlines for its mind-calming abilities, the healing treatment can play a big role in alleviating physical ailments as well.
For people who may not know, tai chi is a low-impact, gradual-motion exercise that involves a series of movements and breathing techniques. In this way, it mirrors meditation and allows practitioners to focus on their bodily sensations. Tai chi has been considered a cousin of qi gong, which is another holistic, mind-body practice that focuses on breathing techniques and easy movements.
Yet unlike other forms of exercise, tai chi keeps muscles relaxed rather than tensed, with the joints not fully extended or bent and the connective tissue not stretched. The practice can be easily adapted for people of all ages, from professional athletes to individuals recovering from surgery.
In fact, Harvard Medical School describes the practice as "medication in motion." Combined with standard treatment, tai chi can be helpful for a variety of medical conditions. Check out specific tai chi benefits below:
In a study at National Taiwan University, researchers found that a year of tai chi significantly increased exercise capacity and lowered blood pressure. High blood pressure, brought on by an unhealthy diet, limited exercise and stress is a leading trigger of heart attack. With tai chi's incorporation of both stress-relieving movements and physical motions, it can spur any practitioner into action and a healthier lifestyle to help reduce the risk of cardiac complications.
What's more, the study showed that patients who practiced tai chi had improved levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin and C-reactive protein in people at high risk for heart disease. Meanwhile, the research, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, showed no improvement in a control group that did not practice tai chi.
Arthritis limits the activities of 21 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But despite what many people assume, staying inactive is not the answer. It's quite the contrary: A sedentary lifestyle may only worsen one's arthritis by promoting prolonged joint stiffness. Tai chi, however, has been looked upon as a great outlet to get individuals with arthritis back on their feet again.
A study from Tufts University indicated that an hour of tai chi twice a week for 12 weeks reduced pain and improved physical functioning as well as mood more than standard stretching exercises in people with severe knee osteoarthritis. When done in gradual amounts, the soft, easy motions of tai chi can help relieve joint inflammation.
Tai chi even has potential to boost the quality of life and the physical ability to carry out normal daily activities in women suffering from breast cancer or the side effects of breast cancer treatment. For instance, a University of Rochester study published in Medicine and Sport Science discovered that women with breast cancer who did 12 weeks of tai chi reported better quality of life, aerobic capacity, muscular strength and flexibility than those who did not practice tai chi.