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Tai Chi for seniors: improving balance and stability

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese practice that has many health benefits. Often described as ‘meditation in motion’, this low-impact exercise is particularly helpful for seniors as it focuses on slow-motion and gentle moves.

What is Tai Chi?

There are many different styles of Tai Chi, but the majority focus on slow-motion and gentle movements that are easy to perform. As well as being a low-impact exercise, Tai Chi is also considered to be a meditative practice and it often incorporates focus on breathing and mental energy. The exact origins of Tai Chi are still unknown. However, records show that a martial art known as ‘shadow boxing’ was developed several centuries BC. Over time, this practice evolved into the form of Tai Chi that is commonly practiced today.

What are the benefits of Tai Chi for seniors?

Many practitioners say that the slow and gentle movements in Tai Chi allow exercise to be relaxing rather than stressful on the body. For seniors, this is ideal as it helps to maintain mobility and reduce stress on achy limbs.

Various research studies have also recently shown that Tai Chi can help reduce the risk of falls. At the core of this exercise are weight redistribution and transfer movements. Additionally, the exercise encourages participants to always land on their heels with their toes pointed toward themselves, building good habits for walking in general. If these moves are practiced on a regular basis, then balance will improve.

Tai Chi for seniors is also beneficial for joint health. This is because the gentle movements in Tai Chi help to improve circulation and strengthen muscles. The goal of this exercise is to increase flexibility and mobility, and this can benefit seniors who suffer from chronic joint issues. Many Tai Chi practitioners also say that the practice encourages a focus on breathing, resulting in improved posture and mental health.

The principles of this practice:

Before practicing Tai Chi, there are a few basic principles that you should know. Some of these include:

1. Standing straight with your shoulders relaxed and your head naturally erect from the crown point

2. Let the mind control the body, and always try to visualise the movement. This is referred to as using intent rather than force

3. Your whole body should move as one. Once one part moves, everything else should follow

4. Separate Empty and Full. This is actually the number one rule and highlights the balance in your movements. For example, if you are putting all your weight in one leg (deemed full), then the other leg should be relaxed (deemed empty).

5. Sync your breathing with your movement. Your breathing should be long, slow, and calm so that you can practice mindfulness.

Whilst Tai Chi is slow and gentle, once practiced on a regular basis, it addresses the main components of fitness and has many health benefits.

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