In the quest to find exercise that will empower us to stay active into old age, my last few articles have examined some forms of low impact exercise: namely, swimming and walking. Today we look at a low- impact martial art that is not only gentle on the knees and joints, but actually seems to improve them.
Tai Chi burns about 275 calories per hour - more calories than surfing, and about the same calories as downhill skiing. But the real benefit of Tai Chi has nothing to do with caloric burn.
The great secret of Tai Chi is that as it is practiced - practically in slow motion - it seems to have wonderful health benefits. These benefits have been claimed by Eastern Medicine for some time now, but are beginning to undergo Western Medicine’s verification as well. So far, Western Medicine is willing to attribute the following Tai Chi claims as valid:
- Increased balance control
- Increased flexibility
- Increased cardiovascular fitness
- lower LDLs by 20-26mg
- Better recovery for people who have endured stroke, heart failure, heart attacks
- Benefits for those suffering from M.S., Fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s
- A recent study indicates that regular practice of Tai Chi improves the body’s immune function, and boosts efficacy of flu and other vaccines.
- Tai Chi “significantly increased psychological well-being including reduction of stress, anxiety, and depression, and enhanced mood in community-dwelling healthy participants and in patients with chronic conditions”
Modern Tai Chi organizations also tout that its forms (a series of fluid movements from 37 to 108 steps) create a flow of energy through the body that nourishes and empowers the body’s systems, which has shown to benefit people suffering from:
- Chronic pain,
- Liver Disease,
- Migraines and much more.
What looks like simple movement is actually complex balance and form. Like all exercise, the better form you have, the better results of the exercise.
If done properly, Tai Chi will engage every joint in your body, from your neck to your toes. After my second class, I noticed that when I changed the position of my hips, (curving my tailbone out) it totally changed my center of balance and the movements we were going through were suddenly more powerful and centered.
I have started taking classes at the Roxborough YMCA with Master Jin Tang. He has been teaching Tai Chi since 1978, and has as much energy now, as I had in my 20’s. Though the room is filled with senior citizens, a few of us ‘younger folk’ have infiltrated the class in the last year.
Like any exercise, what you get out of it is what you put into it. I’ve discovered that to move in slow motion, focused and poised like a cat preparing to attack, takes both mental concentration and muscle control - especially core muscle control. If done correctly, this ‘slow motion’ exercise can feel quite powerful.
For the elderly, this is a great exercise because it has so much emphasis on balance and muscle control, which is often lost in old age. But for the young, Tai Chi can be a great exercise in mental focus, and self control. It’s easy to kickbox out your youthful energy. But it takes a different kind of energy and power to control the body’s every muscle in a series of balance oriented movements. The key is to concentrate on actually engaging all muscles in each move, and not just haphazardly go through the motions.
Here in Manayunk-Roxborough you can take Tai Chi classes at the Roxborough Y, and the Baz Tai Chi studio Note: Master Tang’s website is a good place to learn more about Tai Chi and Master Tang’s credentials, but he no longer owns the Oriental Fitness Institute. He teaches group and private lessons at the Roxborough Y, and at multiple corporate locations. Though I have not taken classes at Baz Tai Chi Studio, they seem to be an excellent outfit and are one of the only Tai Chi studios in the city. They also offer other martial arts and acupuncture.