Sport allows us to build muscle mass and has a positive impact on our health. However, an inadequate technique or a type of physical activity that is not suited to the age and abilities of the body can lead to serious health problems and injuries. That is particularly true for seniors, whose bodies lose strength, recovery capacity and muscle mass with age.
This does not mean, however, that the elderly should shy away from exercise altogether; quite the contrary. Participation in sports activities for seniors can slow down the ageing process and improve fitness, performance and overall mental and physical health. However, it is important to choose the appropriate type of exercise. One of the most recommended sports for the elderly is Tai Chi for seniors. And today we will tell you about the health benefits of Tai Chi for seniors. Let’s dive into it.
Tai Chi – what is it?
Tai chi is a specific martial art of centuries-old tradition, originating from China, classified as a so-called internal system – based on energy flowing from within. Due to its majestic, dignified and rather slow sequences of movements, tai chi exercises are sometimes referred to as ”meditation in movement”. Both the theory and practice of tai chi developed in harmony and consonance with various systems of Chinese philosophy, most notably Taoism and Confucianism.
Within the sporting movement, tai chi has become one of the variations of the Chinese sport known as Wushu. In this perspective, tai chi is trained like any other sport and during competitions, technical, gymnastic and artistic criteria are evaluated, and sometimes other additional criteria related to the tai chi chuan tradition.
Main benefits of tai chi for seniors
Tai chi exercises offer many benefits for seniors. Physical and mental benefits include the following:
- Strengthens muscles of the entire body.
- Improves the balance of the entire body.
- Boosts core strength to increase stability and reduce back pain.
- Increases strength and function in people with chronic illnesses.
- Improves balance, helping to reduce falls.
- Boosts immune system function.
- Boosts cognitive function and memory.
- Reduces depression, anxiety and other mental conditions.
What does tai chi training consist of?
Traditional tai chi training consists of five basic elements:
- taolu – individual forms and arrangements involving the use of fists or weapons,
- neigong and qigong – breathing, movement and awareness exercises, as well as meditation,
- tui shou – counterattacks practised in pairs,
- san shou – self-defence techniques.
How to practise tai chi?
It is a type of movement suitable for virtually everyone, but the health benefits of tai chi for seniors are particularly significant. The application of this technique does not require muscular tension, so it can be performed by everyone, regardless of age and health condition. Among the prerequisites, however, tai chi masters point to patience and perseverance. Contrary to appearances, static and slow tai chi requires a lot of practice and turns out to be – especially at the beginning – more difficult than it may seem.
The characteristic of tai chi training is the stretching of the entire body in all directions while depositing weight to stabilise the posture. During exercise, the muscles, which are alternately loaded and extended, constantly work in a twisting and spiralling motion. By stretching the body structure, the intra-articular spaces are enlarged.
The stretching we experience with postures and movements in tai chi is different from that of other forms of stretching or yoga. In tai chi, one neither closes fully nor straightens the joints. The work takes place in the mid-ranges so that there is an immediate reaction in any direction and the joints are not exposed to damage because the flexors and extensors work to their full extent, stabilising the movement and position.
Tai chi for seniors – tai chi exercises
You can do tai chi exercises virtually anywhere both indoors and outdoors. Below you will find three of the most popular tai chi exercises, and you can search for complete workouts on the YouTube platform, for example.
- NOTE: before each workout, you need to do a warm-up of a few minutes and stretching. The warm-up can consist of fast walking, leg lunges or prancing.
Two most popular tai chi exercises
Drawing the bow
- Step out with your right foot, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Point your head and torso to the right.
- Gather your hands into loose fists.
- Take an inhalation while simultaneously raising both hands to the right at chest height.
- As you exhale, retract your left elbow, lift your right thumb and index finger upwards and bend your knees, squatting as deeply as you can.
- Look beyond your right hand.
- Inhale and then exhale as you lower your arms, straighten your legs and return to the neutral position.
- Repeat on the other side.
Penetrating heaven and earth
- After completing the previous exercise, move your left foot back towards the centre – your feet should be at a distance from each other.
- Rest your arms at your sides.
- While inhaling, raise both arms, palms, and fingertips facing each other, to chest height.
- Relax and make a short exhalation.
- While inhaling, point your right hand upwards, above your head.
- Point your left hand downwards, back to your pelvis.
- While inhaling, draw it back towards you, keeping it in the midline of the body and changing the movement the left hand should raise and the right one lower.
- Repeat this movement several times, controlling your breathing.
Tai chi for seniors – conclusions
Tai chi is the ideal sport for seniors. It will keep them physically fit and keep their minds calm. So encourage the seniors in your life to try it, and if you are a senior yourself, follow our recommendations. You will not regret it!