05/12/2014 06:13 pm ET | Updated Jul 12, 2014
Author, Tai Chi Gold Medalist, Meditation Guide, Wellness Expert
Before I won a gold medal for Yang Tai Chi at the 2014 International Chinese Martial Arts Championships in Los Angeles, I had spent many decades drawn to this beautiful meditative movement, but unable to find a place to learn it. I was also... too busy.
“I’m too busy to meditate” is something I often hear from friends who are drawn to meditation, or even advised by doctors to meditate in order to reduce stress. I love Gabrielle Bernstein’s response to our lament. She asks, “Do you have time to feel like sh*t?”
The arguments against daily meditation don’t hold much weight. Heavily documented by science and thousands of years of tradition to be really great, five minutes a day spent nourishing your life, health, energy, and clarity with Tai Chi will empower you to face your life and our world with more light and strength.
Taking five minutes to practice Tai Chi out of the 1,440 minutes given to you in each day is truly not that much. And when you consider the mountain of scientific evidence supporting health benefits from Tai Chi, it seems like a great deal. You give five minutes, and you get:
1. Better sleep!
2. Weight loss, particularly at the waist.
3. Improved immune function. You won’t get sick as much! (You’ll need this to survive the antibiotic resistant superbugs we’ve created by over-prescribing antibiotics.)
4. Reduced stress levels. Not initially impressed by this fact? Consider that 99.9 percent of all disease is either caused by or exacerbated by stress. It’s a big deal.
5. Better bone density. Even the U.S. Surgeon General recommends it.
6. Reduced pain, improved mood, better physical function, and improved flexibility in osteo-arthritics, decreases pain and fatigue in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
7. Helps prevent heart disease and helps alleviate anxiety.
8. Helps alleviate symptoms associated with Type 2 diabetes and helps lessen need for meds .
9. Improves psychological well being and helps alleviates depression.
10. Helps alleviates symptoms of asthma in children and adults, and improves quality of life for asthmatics.
11. Better balance, flexibility, and strength.
12. Tai Chi helps thicken the brain’s cortex, which means it may help protect practitioners from depression, Alzheimer’s, and dementia, all associated with the thinning of the cortex.
NATURAL WELLNESS THROUGH PREVENTATIVE NUTRITION, FITNESS AND ALTERNATIVE HEALTH
Helps with weight loss
A typical 30-minute session of tai chi burns approximately 150 calories on a person with roughly 155 pounds of body weight. While this may not be as big a calorie burn as you might see with vigorous exercise, you also have the added benefit of stress reduction. This fact is important because of the correlation between high stress and overeating.
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If you were to participate in 30 minutes of tai chi every day for a year, you would burn approximately 54,750 calories in that year, which converts to around 15 pounds of weight loss.
Another weight-loss boost from tai chi comes from improved metabolism. As you master the movements and become proficient, your metabolism and your circulation will also improve. Your increased metabolism will burn up calories more efficiently, while your improved circulation will flush toxins from your blood.
Maintains bone density
Six studies by Harvard researchers have proven that tai chi is not only safe, but it also provides an effective way of maintaining bone density for women who have gone through menopause. In a collaborative study between South Korea and the United States, it was found that women with osteoarthritis who participated in tai chi for six months had increased flexibility and strength while also increasing bone density.
The 2010 study conducted by Chungnam National University in Daejeon, South Korea, took 82 participants from various community health centers and outpatient clinics and assigned them randomly to either a tai chi program group or a control group.
At the end of a six-month period, participants in the tai chi program showed an increase in walking strength and significantly improved bone mineral density.
Improves heart health
In a review article in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, it was explained by physicians from the Kaohsiung Medical University and others, that tai chi provides a light to moderate exercise that is safe for patients with cardiovascular issues. In the article, it was expressed that tai chi training provides significant heart health benefits for common cardiovascular risk factors. Tai chi enhances aerobic capacity, psychological well-being, balance, and muscular strength.
In a study by researchers at the Division for Research Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies at Harvard Medical School, 30 heart failure patients were put on a 12-week regimen of tai chi to determine the effects on their exercise capacity and quality of life.
The patients were randomly assigned, and either participated in the tai chi or received usual care and pharmacologic therapy and exercise counseling. The study findings showed the tai chi group had improved quality of life scores, could walk six minutes further, and had lowered serum B-type natriuretic peptide levels when compared to the results of the control group patients.
In a separate study by researchers at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, U.K., 126 patients who had suffered acute myocardial infarction were randomized between Wu Chian-Ch’uan style tai chi, a non-exercise support group, or a group for aerobic exercise. Subjects were actively involved with their group twice a week for three weeks, and then participated once a week for an additional five weeks.
Study findings showed that only the group who participated in tai chi had a negative trend in their diastolic blood pressure. A significant trend in systolic blood pressure was found from both tai chi and the aerobic exercise group.
Builds a stronger immune system
Scientists believe the controlled breathing and slow movements of tai chi are some of the biggest weapons it uses to boost the immune system. Perhaps the slow movements and meditative state of mind play a role in the stronger immune response that results in practitioners of tai chi.
In a study conducted by UCLA, older adults were asked to take part in a 15-week tai chi class. Following their participation in the class, participants were administered a shingles vaccination. A full 50 percent of subjects had improved immune system function following the tai chi class.
“Our findings offer a unique and exciting example of mind over matter,” said researcher Dr. Michael R. Irwin, a professor at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and director of the Institute’s Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology. “A large body of research shows how behavior can negatively affect the immune system and health, but ours is the first randomized, controlled study to demonstrate that behavior can have a positive effect on immunity that protects against shingles. The findings are particularly noteworthy as Tai Chi Chih or ‘meditation with movement’ increased immunity in older adults who are at risk for herpes zoster.”
In a different study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, a group of 154 adults were randomized into one of three groups. They had a group for mental health that participated in a course for mindfulness-based stress reduction. Another group looked at physical health and was put on a regimen of exercise. The last group was only observed as a control group.
Over the course of eight weeks, the subjects were monitored with bi-weekly phone calls to discuss if they felt like they might be getting sick with a cold. Subjects recorded visits they made to healthcare facilities or days they had to miss school or work.
Findings showed that the mindfulness group experienced illnesses for significantly shorter durations than the control group. They also felt they experienced far less severe illness symptoms. The exercise group only experienced a shorter duration of illnesses; they did not enjoy the same benefit of less severe symptoms.
Decreases pain and improves flexibility
Tai chi is famous for gently moving all joints, tendons, and muscles throughout the entire body. This gentle, controlled movement increases flexibility and strength with the added benefit of decreasing the occurrence of falls. Greater flexibility means less stiffness and reduced pain for people, particularly those with arthritis.
In a 2003 study by researchers from the Soonchunhyang University in Cheonan, South Korea, 72 patients were randomly divided into two groups to study the effects of tai chi on the pain, balance, and muscle strength of older women with osteoarthritis. Many variables were taken into consideration, such as fitness, physical symptoms, cardiovascular functioning, body mass index, and physical functioning difficulties.
The pretest measurement showed no significant group differences. However, after a 12-week period, findings showed the experimental group felt their pain had significantly reduced, along with joint stiffness. They reported fewer physical functionality difficulties and measurable improvements in abdominal strength and balance.
Makes you feel happier
Because tai chi involves using the mind while exercising the body, it can help promote a sense of calm and peacefulness. The slow, graceful movements promote a meditative state of mind that reduces anxiety and can promote feelings of psychological well-being.
A large meta-analysis and systemic review was done collaboratively between the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing, China; the University of North Carolina, Charlotte; Sichuan University in Chengdu, China; and the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston on quasi-experimental (Q-E) and randomized clinical trials (RCTs) regarding tai chi’s effects on mental well-being.
The results of their efforts showed that tai chi participation had definite beneficial impacts on a range of psychological wellness areas, such as anxiety, exercise self-efficacy, depression, and general stress management.
The slow, controlled movements help the body to strengthen the muscles used for balance and posture. In a study by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, researchers found that after 20 tai chi sessions, patients with Parkinson’s disease had improved balance and walking ability.
Two studies were conducted by the National Institute on Aging collectively referred to as The Frailty and Injuries: Cooperative Studies of Intervention Techniques (FICSIT). The studies took place at the University of Connecticut and Emory University.
The first study held at Emory University discovered that participating in a 15-week tai chi program decreased the risk of falling for elderly adults by 47.5 percent. The second study that took place at the University of Connecticut Health Center utilized sophisticated procedures for measuring strength training and balance. Participants took part in a tai chi program over a six-month period. They found that this proved successful in improving strength and balance in the elderly subjects.
Improves asthma symptoms
Because of the controlled breathing and slow movements, people who participate in tai chi can improve their oxygen consumption and overall breathing.
by David Dorian Ross
Imagine an activity that can effectively combine your health and fitness needs in one place—a fun and effective exercise for combatting obesity and weight loss; and for promoting muscle tone, endurance; and as much calorie burning as running!
This activity has been shown to help reverse heart disease, lower the risk of falls (falling is the #1 cause of death among people over 65), relieve depression and anxiety, undo the causes of Alzheimer’s, relieve chronic low back pain, and very possibly slow cellular aging. Hello, “Fountain of Youth”!
What is Tai Chi?
The name of this all-encompassing activity is “Taijiquan” (Tai Chi)―the 1,000-year-old Chinese meditation/workout/martial arts practice that has had a resurgence of popularity of late.
Actor Keanu Reeves is hooked, and recently, he directed, produced, and acted in the film A Man of Tai Chi. Another fan is actor Hugh Jackman, who uses Tai Chi as part of his regimen to stay in X-man shape. And Dr. Oz says that Tai Chi is the ticket to living till 100.
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Tai Chi is 100% safe. It has no side effects, no contraindications, and no record of people being injured as a result of practicing it.
If Tai Chi is new to you, or you think it’s a slow-motion dance for old people, check out this quick guide to the top five benefits of Tai Chi.
Top 5 Benefits of Tai Chi
1. Lose Weight
Numerous studies have shown that Tai Chi affects metabolism and improves aerobic capacity. In one study participants were able to lower both their body mass index (BMI) and their waist circumference by significant amounts.
Due to the synergistic nature of its movements, Tai Chi burns between 300 and 500 calories per hour, depending on the intensity of your workout. When you practice Taijiquan, you use more than just your arms or legs; you’re using your entire body.
The more of your body you use, even at a slow pace, the more calories you burn.
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2. Build Muscle
Practicing Tai Chi is a great way to build and tone muscles. In particular, the legs are working continuously. In a typical 20-minute Taijiquan routine, you may perform the equivalent of 100 lunges.
The upper body also gets a great workout, as this practice utilizes weights and other methods.
3. Stress Less
More than 20 million adults in America suffer from depression and/or anxiety. However, Tai Chi is a great solution and an alternative to many medications.
More than 40 studies have been done on the effects of Tai Chi on mood and overwhelmingly, it has been shown to significantly relieve depression and anxiety (helping patients reduce medication intake), and alleviate withdrawal symptoms during drug-and-alcohol treatment programs.
Related Article: How to Manage Stress Without Alcohol or Drugs
In addition students often develop a sense of calm, centeredness, and positivity!
4. Fight Heart Disease
Are you a “Type A” personality, but are sometimes a bit tightly wound? Statistically, that places you at a higher risk for heart disease, the #1 cause of early mortality in the U.S.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 600,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. every year—that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. But according to Dr. Peter Wayne, author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, “Tai Chi may be one of the more effective, versatile non-pharmacological interventions to prevent and rehabilitate cardio-vascular disease.”
Related Article: 11 Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy
5. Boost Your Immune System
In a 2007 UCLA study (Irwin, M. “Journal of the American Geriatrics Society,” April 2007), researchers found that subjects who practiced Tai Chi had twice the immune response as the control subjects. According to the UCLA head researcher, the study suggests that “tai chi is an approach that might complement and augment the efficacy of other vaccines.”
So the next time you get your annual flu shot, back it up with a little Tai Chi practice, and it may be twice as effective!
Tai Chi may be ancient, but it’s more effective, efficient, and safer than many modern methods of health and fitness self-care. Try it today—and get your Qi on!