Tai Chi as a physical health exercise is suited to any age, young or old. There are many health and wellbeing benefits that help students in their later years.
Tai Chi and Qigong movements range from no to low impact, making it an ideal form of exercise for senior citizens. This helps to protect and strengthen their joints, without jarring or jerky movements that can cause injury and pain.
Increase Muscle Strength
As the movements are low impact, this helps to improve muscle strength without the need for aerobic exercise. The whole body can become stronger through dynamic spiralling movements, strengthening the core, lower and upper limbs. Tai Chi and Qigong when performed accurately can be demanding on the body, no matter how slow you are moving. In fact, the slower you move the harder the muscles work.
One of the key parts of training slowly and gently over a long time, is that injury does not often occur. The body is warmed up to becoming more flexible, elastic and resilient over time. There's no quick fix, it takes patience and lots of repetition to explore a complete range of physical motion. Students are only looking for micro improvements in each training session, that help them flex the soft tissue and connective tissue across the body. Train your weak spots!
The movements appear gentle, yet bring a deep stretch through expansion and compression of the joints. The joint system is a huge focus in all Tai Chi and Qigong exercises, working to hydrate the joints through an increase in the lubrication within the joint, known as synovial fluid. As well as an increase in the removal of toxins and waste from the joint, into the lymph system. Without the dynamic joint movements, Tai Chi and Qigong would merely be a gym exercise. Bone density is also improved with regular practice, helping to strengthen the bones, joints and whole skeletal system.
Tai Chi can also help with fall prevention by strengthening the muscles in the whole body, this improves balance and stability and importantly trains the skill of body awareness. Knowing where your limbs are in space without using your eyes is very important to prevent trip and fall accidents. Body awareness (proprioception) is one of the key factors in effective Tai Chi and Qigong training.
I often describe Chen Tai Chi as a physical form of Sudoku, not for the mathematics, but for the stimulation of both left and right brain activities. The choreography, principles and many layers of learning are challenging, even for the youngest of minds. Intellectual memory and muscle memory are key parts of the learning process, as are symmetrical movements performed equally on both sides of the body. The mind is wholly occupied during a training session, working hard to listen, watch and digest the movements. Students watch the instructor's body and listen to the method of movement, then replicating those in their own body which develops the skill of body awareness and spatial awareness. Students often express how tired they are mentally and physically after a class, as it is a whole mind and body workout. From this, the ability to concentrate is expanded, and attention spans are lengthened, along with a general improvement in mental agility that will be noticeable in their daily life.
Slow the Heart Rate / Lower Blood Pressure
By moving and breathing slowly, this activates the body's automatic relaxation response called the 'parasympathetic' nervous system. This brings the body towards a more neutral state of being, where the heart rate is slower and the blood pressure is lowered, along with a release and letting go of chronic physical and mental tension.
Posture can also be improved with regular Tai Chi and Qigong practice, teaching students how to align the body for better overall physiological health, to learn how to let go areas of muscular contraction by realigning their posture in both movement and stillness.
Improving Body Systems
Circulation can also be improved, especially to the extremities, along with an improved lymph system function to help detox the body, improved organ health, as well as improving the function of the respiratory, digestive, central nervous, hormone and importantly boosting your immune system. This is essential for the seniors to be as resilient as possible as they grow older.
Many senior citizens have restricted breathing, or are not breathing to their full capacity. Tai Chi and Qigong movements help teach diaphragmatic breathing techniques which aid respiration and encourage flexibility around the trunk.
Help with Chronic Pain
Tai Chi and Qigong help people living with pain to soften the physical sensation through gentle exercises and deep breathing, to soften their own personal response to pain and to use pain as a diagnostic to work with their own unique health baseline. This is essential for seniors as their bodies age and pain typically increases.
Tai Chi and Qigong give your energy a boost. It's not that they create something new in the body, more so that they stimulate the body's own systems to function better by the increase of oxygen, increase in blood flow, increase in organ function, increase in happy brain chemicals, and the increase in relaxation and well-being.
Seniors can be great worriers! Tai Chi and Qigong are a healthy distraction, aiding the physical and mental symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Many of my students report they feel better in themselves for coming to class, even if they don't know why or how. The movements speak for themselves and help to calm the mind whilst relaxing the body.
Aids Injury Recovery
No matter of your age, healthy blood flow is essential to recovery from injury. Many students take up Tai Chi and Qigong when they are recovering from injury, as it is a safe and gentle practice where they can get the body moving once again, in a situation where they may not be able to partake in impact sports due to the injury. Tai Chi and Qigong can be done lying down, seated and standing and will aid the body in recovering quicker.
Aids Chronic Health
Tai Chi and Qigong are ideal exercises that aid the symptoms of many chronic and degenerative health conditions, from arthritis, fibromyalgia, Ehlers Danlos syndrome, recovery from heart failure, Parkinson's disease, to ankylosing spondylitis and SAD.
A sense of belonging, safety and community is very important for senior citizens. Community exercise classes can be a life line for those living alone. Instructor Nicola teaches Tai Chi and Qigong movements for health. Her online lessons and community class on the Isle of Wight are open to anyone no matter age, ability or physical health.