Exercises and benefits of tai chi for older adults

Exercising is one of the most practical ways to ensure a healthy old age. However, when you reach a certain age, it is sometimes difficult to keep up with the pace and intensity of most sports. The solution can be found in Tai Chi for Seniors, an increasingly popular discipline.

Tai Chi is a type of martial art developed in China that uses slow and fluid movements and combines them with breathing exercises, concentration and body relaxation. It is a low intensity practice that can be done at home and does not require an investment of money. For all this, it is perfect for older adults.

During the last decades millions use it as a technique to achieve physical-spiritual connection. Today we will focus on the scientific evidence of its health benefits, especially for older people. We also suggest a routine so you can start developing it as soon as possible.

Studies and benefits of tai chi

There are hundreds of studies on the benefits of tai chi. Most are focused on improving health in general, although we can also find specific case investigations with elderly patients. For example, in 2015 it was published in the magazine Gymnastics Act research on the effects of a 10-week program in 15 older adults.

At the end of the program, the participants assured experience a reduction in anxiety, depression, and pain. In the objective plane, progress was found in body posture and an increase in functional mobility. It is important to note that none of the chosen people had practiced Tai Chi before.

But this is not all. Research indicates that it improves balance, which is of great help in patients who have instability and coordination problems. We also know that it contributes to bone density, essential to fight osteoporosis. Finally, other studies and research suggest that significantly improves muscle strength and locomotor function.

Lack of balance and coordination is a common problem in the elderly that can be counteracted with tai chi.

Other benefits of tai chi for older adults

Taking the above into account and considering scientific criteria, Tai Chi for older adults offers the following other benefits:

  • Improves aerobic capacity: Although it is a low intensity exercise, an improvement in aerobic capacity has been evidenced in older adults in contrast to sedentary groups.
  • Lowers blood pressure: A study of 126 patients after a myocardial infarction suggests that a tai chi program for older adults can lower diastolic blood pressure.
  • Decrease stress levels: there is enough evidence to classify tai chi as a positive activity for psychological well-being. Reduces stress, depression and improves overall mood.
  • It enhances sleep quality: Research published in 2004 showed an improvement in the quality of sleep in older adults who practiced Tai Chi for 6 months. The results support its use for those who suffer from some type of disorder that prevents them from sleeping.
  • Relieves pain from certain conditions: Tai Chi exercises have been studied to help reduce pain in certain conditions, such as arthritis. Pain reduction is something that is also achieved with other disciplines.
  • Improves quality of life in general: reduction in stress levels, muscle strengthening, and the other improvements reviewed point to an increase in the quality of holistic health. This occurs on a physical and psychological level, in a way that benefits its practitioners in more ways than one.

It is important to keep in mind that the advantages of practicing Tai Chi for older adults are not only focused on the lower and middle trunk. Evidence suggests that it also contributes to greater dynamism and functional control of the arms.

It may interest you: 4 important exercises for seniors

Tai Chi exercises that you can practice

Given all these benefits of practicing Tai Chi for older adults, there is no doubt that a routine can be very attractive for some people. Before reviewing it, remember that, as with any other discipline, it is convenient that you do a previous stretch to condition muscles and joints.

The stretch should focus on the upper and lower torso, with special emphasis on the flexion areas. Once this is considered, you can apply any of the following tai chi exercises.

1. Energy to the sky

A key move that every beginner should learn. It helps to improve the position of the back, breathing and contributes to the balance of the middle zone of the body.

To do so, apply these steps:

  1. In an upright position you will spread your legs to the height of the hips / shoulders. Relax your arms to their natural extension and looks straight ahead.
  2. You will raise your arms to create a perpendicular line with the ground and then bend your elbows to bring your fingers closer with the palm of your hand pointing down. Try to keep them straight and make the movement smooth and slow.
  3. Stare at your arms in this position, inhale deeply and then extend them back to the front in a perpendicular line with the ground.
  4. Finally, raise your arms up, so that they are vertical, creating a straight line with your body.
  5. Keep them there for a moment exhale the air and then return them without bending them to their natural extension, next to your legs.

Also read: What exercises to encourage in older adults?

2. Windmill

Recommended exercise for those who lack flexibility or problems in the lower back. Its realization consists of the following movements:

  1. In an upright position you will spread your feet a couple of centimeters beyond your hips. Relax your shoulders, neck and let your arms drop naturally.
  2. Raise the right arm, fully extended, and bring it to the back to complete a 360 degree turn. Do it slowly and arching your torso a little if necessary.
  3. Repeat this route three times with the same arm, while accompanying it with a deep and slow breath.
  4. When finished, leave the arm fixed in its natural position and apply the path three times with its namesake on the left side. Remember to do it slowly and without bending the extension of the elbow.

3. Shoot the bow

There are many variants of this exercise, depending on each Tai Chi school. The most widespread is the following:

  1. In an upright position, stretch your right foot a little more than its natural shoulder opening. Make a gentle twist of your upper torso in this direction, gazing this way as well.
  2. Raise both arms to the right without bending them and pick up the left one, imitating the tension of a bow. Go slowly and taking inhalations and exhalations along the way.
  3. Hold the tension of the bow for a moment, point towards some direction at the top, bend your body a little while squatting, and then release your left arm as if releasing the bowstring.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat the movement for two minutes.

4. The white crane

Although doing it correctly requires abdominal tension and balance, it is another basic tai chi exercise for older adults. Follow these tips:

  1. In a vertical position, you will extend the right request, resting only the heel on the ground. It should be extended so that most of the weight is on the left foot.
  2. You will raise your arms to the level of your chin and turn a couple of degrees to your right. You will lean forward making opening movements with your arms.
  3. With the natural impulse that has been generated, you will make a 180 degree turn to your left. As you do this, you will alternate the supporting foot, so this time it will be the left one that lies extended in front of you.
  4. During this transition, a spread of wings will be imitated and deep breaths will be taken. The steps should be slow and coordinated.

These four exercises are basic to start entering the world of tai chi. In its description we have only taken into account functional aspects, since the practice is also accompanied by a balance with your vital energy (or chi).

Tai Chi positions must be linked in a fluid way and in connection with the moment, involving body and mind.

What to keep in mind when practicing Tai Chi as an older adult?

Some of the recommendations that you should keep in mind are the following:

  • Although many practice it without some type of footwear, it is convenient that you choose one that provides you stability. You can opt for a specialized one or sports shoes that are very flexible.
  • If you wish, use a mat on the floor to help create friction. This should allow you to do all the movements without any obstacles.
  • Don't make sudden changes between movements. Tai Chi consists of smooth transitions, so the end of one exercise must be connected to the beginning of another.
  • Breathing should be smooth and deep. If possible, it should be done through the nose.
  • You can accompany your sessions with music, surround yourself with relaxing objects or even do them outside, in the middle of nature.

Being the first time you do it, it is very likely that your movements are uncoordinated. This is normal, so you shouldn't be self-conscious at all. You can familiarize yourself through online sessions or attending classes with groups of your age in person.