The health benefits of the ancient art of tai chi are, quite literally, legendary.
Like all the martial arts, tai chi originated as a form of self-defense, but many today use it for other forms of combat: to fight stress, obesity, joint pain, disability, and loss of balance (physical and mental).
Studies have shown that tai chi improves balance and coordination in seniors, and can reduce the risk of falls in the elderly. It also helps maintain and improve mobility in those with arthritis and joint stiffness. Further, it can increase muscle strength in the legs.
Other studies have found that practicing tai chi improves memory; still others have found that tai chi can reduce blood pressure (and high blood pressure is a known, major risk factor for cardiovascular disease).
Yet another recent study found that the practice of tai chi resulted in higher levels of stem cells known as CD34 cells, which are important to several physiologic functions throughout the human body. Having higher numbers of stem cells may translate into better cell-renewing abilities, which can help improve or prevent chronic illnesses.
And several studies have shown that tai chi can reduce and relieve stress. Many tai chi practitioners report that tai chi enhances sleep and alleviates insomnia, and it may be through a combination of stress relief and increased physical activity that it does so.
As a fourth-degree black belt in tae kwon do, I have personally turned to tai chi to continue my participation in the martial arts, as my joints have protested against continuing full-on tae kwon do with the passing years. I find tai chi to be a gentler form that still emphasizes balance, strength, discipline, and concentration. And it promises to be an art that I can continue for the rest of my life!
Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP, is President of Nashville Preventive Cardiology, PLLC, in Nashville, TN. She is board-certified in internal medicine and cardiovascular disease, as well as in clinical lipidology and nuclear cardiology. She is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and of the American College of Physicians. She graduated from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 2001, and has made it her career’s work to follow her passion for preventing cardiovascular disease and improving heart health for as many people as possible. In addition, Dr. Ali is also the Physician Expert for the Obesity site for www.obesity.about.com. Each month she will be contributing an educational piece on preventing cardiovascular disease. To learn more about Dr. Ali, visit www.preventivecardio.com.