Benefits of Tai Chi for Older People

You may think that it’s too late to take up a new exercise class but there is increasing evidence that Tai Chi can help not only boost overall health but may help with a wide range of conditions.

For example, there’s evidence that it can help in reducing the risk of pulmonary heart disease, ease the symptoms and Parkinson’s and improve balance and mobility as we get older.

Here we look at just a few of the research studies that have been carried out in recent years.

Cognitive Function

Cognitive function relates to the mental processes involved in thinking, learning, and remembering information, things we take for granted when younger but begin to seriously miss as we get older.

These processes include attention, perception, memory, language, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making. As we age, it is natural for some of these processes and functions to decline and that happens for a variety of reasons.

There is evidence, however, that exercise can play a big role in helping to delay this process. One study in China in 2019 found that older patients could benefit from practising Tai Chi or Ba Duan Jin. The researchers used a functional magnetic resonance imaging tool to examine brain activity in patients. This looked at the connectivity of the cognitive control network and found that patients did indeed show improvements after regular exercise sessions.

An earlier, systematic review also found that tai chi has the potential to enhance cognitive function, particularly when it comes to areas such as executive functions including decision-making and planning. These are still early days when it comes to research in this field and it has to be said that any form of exercise is likely to boost cognitive function. But there are clear indications that taking a tai chi class can have significant benefits.

One of the big benefits of a tai chi class for older people, however, is that it is communal and provides the opportunity to meet other people and it is also low-impact which makes it easier on the body, especially for those who haven’t exercised for a while.

Mobility in Later Life

One of the huge challenges as we get older, of course, is mobility. The range of motions in performing moves in tai chi as well as the slow nature of the exercise makes it a suitable option for older people.

A review in 2020 looked at twenty years of research into the benefits of tai chi in the health and well-being of the older population. It found that the exercise had a role to play in improving balance, gait, coordination and muscle strength. One of the things the study noticed was that an exercise class like tai chi was also a highly cost-effective intervention that could produce huge dividends.

Other evidence has pointed out the fact that many older people don’t maintain an exercise regime. About 1 in 8 of us regularly does strengthening or aerobic exercise of any kind which could have a profound impact as we grow older. There’s increasing evidence that incorporating some exercise into your daily regime every day can help delay problems such as loss of mobility and balance.

Specific Health Conditions

Parkinson’s disease is a condition that affects the brain and causes symptoms such as stiffness, tremors and loss of mobility. It’s a progressive disease and there is currently no known cure. Globally, it is the second most prevalent neurodegenerative disease that older people tend to suffer from. There has been some research carried out in this area with the use of tai chi and this shows that it can improve symptoms during the early stages of the disease. A recent systematic review of the current research certainly points to an improvement in motor function and balance for some patients.

One study took a group of Parkinson’s patients and gave them tai chi sessions 3 times a week for two months and compared this to a group that had regular exercise. The research found that those in the tai chi group had a greater improvement in speed of movement and reduced potential for falls compared to the general exercise group.

We all know that exercise in general is good for the heart and tai chi is a great way to get a cardiovascular workout. There are several studies, however, that suggest that a slow, low-impact exercise like tai chi has benefits for those that have an existing heart condition.

A study in 2019, for instance, found that it could improve symptoms for men over 50 particularly when it came to important markers such as reducing high blood pressure. Another study found that tai chi was a safe and effective exercise for patients who had suffered a myocardial infarction and that it could lead to weight loss, better fitness and better quality of life.

Millions of people in the UK suffer from chronic pain conditions and these can be highly debilitating and reduce the quality of life. Again, it may be the slow movements in tai chi and the focus on the body that might help people with these types of conditions. There is some solid research evidence available now, however, that suggests that tai chi may be a suitable and beneficial exercise for those with conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.

Consult Your Doctor First

While tai chi has a lot of health benefits and may help with certain conditions it is vital to discuss taking up any form of exercise with your GP first if you suffer from a serious condition such as chronic pain or heart disease.

Where to Find Tai Chi Classes in Devon

We run a couple of different tai chi classes in Devon. There’s a 14-week course that is great for beginners which we hold in OCRA’s Pavillion in the Park in Oakhamptom and more specialised sessions for those with long-standing neurological conditions at Whitchurch Village Hall in Tavistock.

Want to find out more? Check out the details of our tai chi classes here.

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