By: Michael Auryn
A favorite in Eastern medicine, tai Chi was developed nearly one thousand years ago as a way to enhance the flow of vital energy in the body, with the health benefits of tai chi being one of the main reasons people still practice the technique today. In its earliest days, it was a secret teaching, passed down through generations of initiates. Today, the Chinese martial art is known throughout the world. Its popularity in America has grown since the 1960s, with Tai Chi instructors and classes being in most large American cities.
The Many Health Benefits of Tai Chi
While some traditional Chinese practices like acupuncture still garner their share of skepticism from western science, Tai Chi is viewed as a safe and effective way to enhance personal health and wellness. The martial art is known for its slow movements, which gently work all the major muscle groups and promote relaxation. Tai Chi is considered a form of “mind-body” medicine in the west. There are several key health benefits that make Tai chi an appealing way to enhance wellness.
Enhanced Mood and Wellbeing
A 2006 study at Stanford University demonstrated how Tai Chi has a significant impact on overall mental and emotional wellbeing. 39 subjects were given 12 weeks of Tai Chi instruction and their mental health was assessed before and afterward. The participants were evaluated for overall mood, stress levels, perceived social supports and self-confidence measures. What Tai Chi enthusiasts would find fascinating is that the subjects showed significant improvement in all four of these categories. Perceived stress levels showed the largest decline, demonstrating how Tai Chi is a safe, effective way to improve mood.
The Stanford study also assessed some measures of muscular strength and range of motion. The group collectively improved in both upper-body strength and lower-body strength. A Japanese study that measured the same factors and lasted the same 12 week duration showed a 30 percent improvement in lower-body strength and a 25 percent improvement in arm strength.
Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
Further showcasing the health benefits of Tai Chi, 76 subjects were introduced to Tai Chi and given 12 weeks of classes to evaluate its effect on blood pressure and lipid profiles among other things. All of the participants had high blood pressure or stage-one hypertension. The study, which was conducted in Taiwan, showed moderate drops in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The Tai Chi also lowered unhealthy cholesterol levels while increasing levels of good cholesterol in the body. The researchers concluded the Tai Chi could be a useful tool for reducing heart disease.
Tai Chi practice has a strong, favorable effect on the immune system. Andrew Morjan, from the National Institute on Aging, claims that Tai Chi appears to be “more effective than simple exercise and more effective than simple stress reduction.” He was commenting on an American Geriatric Society study that showed major improvement in immune system function in 77 elderly Tai Chi practitioners. They showed immunity levels to Chicken Pox and Shingles that were common to people almost half their age. The study also showed a marked improvement in physical health and mental function.
Seeing as there are numerous health benefits of Tai Chi, a growing number of scientific studies are supporting this Chinese art. There is currently little if any skepticism in the west that Tai Chi is a safe, effective way to uplift mood, lower blood pressure and heart rate, enhance physical function by improving strength, flexibility and aerobic ability and generally improve overall health. The rise in Tai Chi’s popularity in America country shows how many Americans are looking to mind-body medicine as an effective, engaging way to take control of their health.