Tai chi — which dates back to ancient Chinese culture — is an exercise that has withstood the test of time. And when you consider its range of science-backed health benefits, it's no surprise why people are still practicing it today.
Though it was originally created as a martial art, tai chi is now largely a meditative practice. As you transition through movements, you allow your qi (an energy force from within, pronounced "chee") to flow through your body to provide mental and physical balance.
Despite its gentle nature, the health benefits of tai chi can be impressive. What's more, Harvard Medical School notes you may still be able to enjoy tai chi even if you have a condition that prevents you from many physical activities. So find yourself some quite space, take a deep breath, and flow with confidence knowing that you're working towards a healthier body and spirit in these six ways.
1. It Decreases Blood Pressure
Tai chi may be just as effective as popular methods for lowering blood pressure, such as weight loss and lowered sodium intake. According to the American Heart Association's publication Heart Insight Magazine, tai chi may positively affect blood cholesterol, related lipids and inflammation. This means that enjoying tai chi regularly may lower your chance of heart disease.
2. It Reinvigorates Your Body and Mind
Thinking of pouring yourself that third cup of coffee? A major goal of tai chi is the flow of qi around the body. This is done through slow, deep breathing, which leaves you with a burst of energy. And not the jittery, "I've had way too much coffee" kind, either. You'll be left with the calm, natural alertness you feel after a good night's rest. Sorry, Starbucks.
Look for quiet parks and other serene spaces away from highways to really reap the full mindfulness benefits.
3. It Makes You Stronger
Make no mistake, "gentle" does not mean "non-toning." You can definitely build muscle doing tai chi. Harvard Medical School compares the effects of its deliberate movements to those of resistance training or brisk walking. Flowing between movements, you must engage your core, back, and arm and leg muscles, making tai chi a great low-impact exercise option.
4. It Builds Community
Group activity that's good for the soul and counts as exercise? Yes, please! Some of Abbott's global experts share their reasons for why it's important to stay active with others. For one, it keeps you accountable and makes you more likely to stick with an activity. Plus, it allows you to work up a sweat while making positive memories. Tai chi also involves silence (it's a no cellphone zone!), so you and a new pal can bond over a shared experience without agonizing over awkward silences.
5. It Encourages Serenity
The deep breathing in tai chi may decrease anxiety, stress and depression. A recent article in Stanford Medicine reported that researchers have discovered 175 neurons in the brain that can differentiate types of breathing, such as from crying or laughing. During an activity like tai chi, these neurons may pick up on your controlled breathing, signaling the body to enter a state of tranquility. Better mood, coming right up!
6. It Leads to Better Balance (Literally)
Research has found that balance may falter with age. Frontiers in Neurology reports that after age 40, the body's vestibular system — which controls balance — starts to decline. One of the health benefits of tai chi is it may counteract this natural process. During tai chi, the body moves fluidly as if it is opposing energy forces to create harmony. This involves shifting your weight back and forth from leg to leg, which helps improve balance. Who says you can't turn back the clock?
What's great about tai chi is there is room to find what works for you. While some like to focus more on breath work, others reap more benefits from focusing on the martial arts aspect or learning tai chi sequences. Explore the practice and find what works for your wellness needs.