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Posted: January 9, 2011 12:00 a.m.

Here's to Your Health - Tai Chi – great for health

Tai Chi is a 2,000-year-old Chinese marshal art that has been found to have an abundance of health benefits for Americans. It is a well known branch of Qigong, exercises that are designed to harness qi (pronounced "chee") or life energy. It is a series of martial arts movements executed carefully with an emphasis on deep breathing. Its movements can be adapted to almost anyone, even those with illness and disabilities. It can even be adapted for people in wheelchairs.

Researchers aren’t sure exactly how, but studies have shown that tai chi improves the quality of life for those suffering from breast cancer and Parkinson’s Disease. It shows great promise in treating sleeping problems and high blood pressure.

Chenchen Wang is an associate professor of medicine at Tufts University who set out to analyze 40 studies on tai chi in English and Chinese. He discovered that tai chi did in fact promote balance, flexibility, cardiovascular health and muscle strength. In comparison to brisk walking and resistance training, those who practiced tai chi improved more than 30 percent in lower-body strength and 25 percent in arm strength. This was almost as much as the weight-training group, and better than the walkers. According to Wang, "Benefit was also found for pain, stress, and anxiety in healthy subjects."

Gloria Yeh, an internist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, reviewed 26 studies in English and Chinese in 2008. She reported that tai chi was able to lower blood pressure in 85 percent of trials. In other studies, tai chi was found to reduce blood levels of B-type natriuretic peptide. This is a precursor of heart failure. Tai chi has also been found to maintain bone density in postmenopausal women. To help with arthritis, The Arthritis Foundation has developed its own 12-movement tai chi sequence.

Although Wang states that more studies are needed, at this point it seems clear that tai chi has numerous health benefits without substantial detractors. According the New York Times personal health writer Jane Brody, who reviewed existing scientific literature on the health benefits of tai chi, "…the proper question to ask yourself may not be why you should practice tai chi, but why not."

The first step in pursuing tai chi is to find a good teacher. "Learning from a book or video just does not work," stated Greg Woodson, a tai chi teacher and vice president of the international T’ai Chi Foundation. A tai chi student needs immediate, real time feedback from a teacher who will insure the exercises are conducted correctly. For example, feet need to be flat on the floor to avoid placing stress on the knees. This is something subtle that an experienced teacher can detect. Woodson goes on to recommend finding a teacher with at least 10 years experience. If less than that, look to see if they have the backing of a school or more experienced teacher.

To achieve the health benefits of tai chi, Wang recommends a minimum of once or twice weekly sessions for 8 to 12 weeks.

 

C. Kirven Weekley, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with offices in Covington and Norcross. He specializes in the evaluation and treatment of adults for depression, anxiety, relationship problems and medical issues. He can be reached at (770) 441-9244.

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