Wow, where do I start and how much time do you have………
I thought this would make a great first post. Beginning of a new year, and decade. Lots of new years resolutions. My resolution is to share Tai Chi on a deeper level with my students. This blog is an attempt to do just that. Please let me know your thoughts. What a better jumping off point for a new year than to review the health benefits of Tai Chi. There are so many benefits. It almost seems like Tai Chi is magic. I guess in a way, it is magic. Hundreds of years of ancient Chinese health and medicine now available to you without a doctors prescription!
I have the privilege of teaching a lot of people every week and pretty much a week doesn’t go by without someone telling me a personal story about how Tai Chi has personally helped them out. Some of the recent Tai Chi successes have included:
Reversing irreversible foot neuropathy
No longer needing cortisone shots for pain
No longer needing daily Lidocaine patches for pain
Moving from Osteoporosis to Osteopenia or from Osteopenia to normal bone density
Lowering Blood Pressure
Seeing a stroke recovery patient move her foot for the first time in my class!!!
Growing an inch taller in a year (when in their 70’s)
(And my favorite this year) keeping someone from stealing their wallet while on vacation
Unfortunately none of the above is considered medical research. I can’t say, “Tai Chi cures Osteoporosis”. I have to say “several of my students have reported that Tai Chi has improved their Osteoporosis”. So to discuss the health benefits of Tai Chi and remain legitimate we have to look at what research has shown us. When I started as a student of Tai Chi there wasn’t a whole lot of research, especially regarding Tai Chi and Parkinson’s Disease. Now there are over 500 studies and 120 systemic reviews (as of 2014).
I will tell you that my average student sees balance benefits of Tai Chi in about 6 weeks. I have also seen a trend in recent years where someone starts Tai Chi to improve their balance. After several months of Tai Chi they discover that other health problems have improved. I have also noticed that the health benefits of Tai Chi stay with my students longer when compared to other exercises (research has confirmed this). I enjoy watching my students improve week after week, but the thing I love most is the look on their face when reach their first goal (whatever it may be).
An important note – if you have had a long standing health issue or a recent severe health issue, a few weeks of Tai Chi is not going to “cure” what ails you. Lower backs, shoulders, chronic diseases, stroke recovery are going to take a long time (maybe for the rest of your life) to improve or maintain good health. I cannot promise that Tai Chi will “fix” you, but I can assure you doing nothing is not a solution.
So lets take a look at what research tell us. I am giong to summarize a Clinical Review titled Health Benefits of Tai Chi. What is the Evidence? It’s only 500 studies how long could it take? In 2015 there was an average of 15 articles released per month! I will also give you a link if you want to read the report in detail. Their conclusion in one sentence is “There is abundant evidence on the health and fitness effects of tai chi.” To look at it in more detail. They broke the studies down into five categories of evidence of benefits; excellent, good, fair, preliminary, or evidence of no direct benefit. Here is what they found:
Fall Prevention in the Community
Parkinson Disease [Note for my Parkinson Friends the review finds that those who do Tai Chi and take their medicine had better mobility and balance than those who just took medicine]
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Quality of Life for Cancer Patients
Preliminary (showing promise [sometimes only a little] but needs more study)
Low Back Pain
Arm Mobility in Breast Cancer
Help for Spinal Cord and Traumatic Brain Injury
No Direct Benefit
Chronic Heart Failure
Tai Chi for General Health and Fitness
Improves Aerobic Capacity
Improve Strength (Esp Lower Limbs)
Overall Well Being
Strengthen Immune Capacity
Hows that for a list!!!
Note that mental issues and brain function rates high on the list. There was a great study several years ago looking at Tai Chi for Alzheimer Disease. When you have Alzheimer Disease your hippocampus shrinks, physically shrinks. This study showed not only did the hippocampus stop shrinking (think about that for a minute, a part of the brain that was shrinking, stopped shrinking due only to Tai Chi, that is an amazing result) but the hippocampus reversed itself and actually started growing again!!! That is absolutely amazing and speaks to the mind/body connection of Tai Chi.
One other thing to consider, in a lot of these studies the participants did Tai Chi two times a week. To improve how Tai Chi helps you maybe try it two times a week instead of one. If you can’t make it to two lessons maybe up your practice level at home.
A final consideration for you. In my years of teaching I occasionally come across someone who will tell me “I will start doing Tai Chi as soon as I feel better”. I have a person I see regularly that every time I see her she explains to me that she is coming back to class as soon as she feels better. This has been going on for over a year now. Every time I see her she has a new ailment. It is so hard not to tell her (and others) that don’t wait till you “feel better” to do Tai Chi, use Tai Chi to help you feel better.
Just yesterday a new student came to class but told me she was going to sit out because she was having a flare up (Fibromyalgia). I suggested to her that since she was already here she should participate in class. Just keep her movements “small” and if she started feeling bad she should just sit down and rest. Don’t push it but move as much as your body allows. She did participate in class and sat down once or twice for a couple of minutes. After class she told me how glad she was that she participated. Our bodies were designed to move! That is the best benefit of Tai Chi; we get the opportunity to move our bodies in a safe and gentle way.
I loved an article I once read that was titled (paraphrasing) “The question isn’t why should you do Tai Chi, the Question is why wouldn’t you do Tai Chi.” My challenge for you for this new year is two fold:
Make Tai Chi and Deep Breathing part of your daily routine. Take 15-20 minutes everyday to work on yourself. Start by doing 10 minutes of deep breathing and the “warm up” exercises everyday.
Reach out to a family member or a friend who may be struggling or have a health issue and invite someone to a Tai Chi class. Go with them to the class or invite them to your class.
What a better gift to give someone you love than the gift of health. What a better gift to give yourself than the gift of health!!! I’m looking forward to a happy and HEALTHY 2020. All the best.
I will put the link to the study (10 pages) in the media/documents section of my website.