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Improve your health with tai chi

Created date

August 23rd, 2010

[caption id="attachment_13995" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Tai chi is like moving meditation moving the body slowly and gently while breathing regularly."][/caption] Tai chi is easy to learn, says Karen Kansler, M.A., R.N., community outreach nurse and aging advocate at Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore, Md. In its simplest form, tai chi is a moving meditation, which means moving your body slowly and gently while breathing regularly. Tai chi is not the same as yoga. Instead of trying to hold your body in certain positions, you are doing slow movements, she says. Tai chi developed in ancient China. It started as a martial art and a means of self-defense. Over time, people began to use it for health purposes. Scientific studies have focused on its potential for preventing falls and improving cardiovascular fitness, osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis. It s also a great stress reliever, Kansler says. It s especially good for people with arthritis. It helps reduce pain, ease stiffness, and gives you more energy, she adds. You are no longer sitting in a chair doing nothing because your joints ache. Having almost any chronic disease can increase your risk of falls, says Philip Taylor, M.D., medical director at Maris Grove. ' Tai chi can prevent falls by improving balance and muscle strength. It may also help decrease depression and anxiety. The exercises in tai chi improve your breathing, which helps increase oxygen to your brain, muscles, and all of your organs, Kansler says. Many adults don t breathe as deeply as they should because of various health conditions, but tai chi teaches breathing techniques that you ll start doing naturally. Tai chi can be modified for just about anyone with almost any health condition. Everyone in my class has at least one chronic condition, and some are in their 80s. It can even be taught to people who need to stay in bed or who use wheelchairs, Kansler says. If you join a tai chi class, you only have to do what you are able. If you need to sit down, that s okay. You are still reaping benefits if you are doing exercises while sitting down. Tai chi has so many potential benefits that no matter how healthy you think you are, there are advantages for almost anyone, Taylor says. Tai chi is quite safe, but there are risks for some people, says Taylor. If you have a hernia, joint problems, back pain, fractures, or severe osteoporosis, your doctor may advise you to modify or avoid certain exercises. As with any exercise regimen, if you overdo it, you may have sore muscles or sprains. Tai chi instructors often recommend not practicing tai chi right after a meal, when you are very tired, or if you have an active infection. Talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen, including tai chi.

Additional considerations

Do not use tai chi as a replacement for conventional care or to postpone seeing a doctor about a medical problem. Consult with your health care provider before starting tai chi if you have a medical condition or have not exercised in a while. Ask potential tai chi instructors about their training and experience. Learning tai chi from videos or books does not ensure that you are doing the movements correctly and safely.