Tai Chi’s Gentle Path to Building Strength

Could a slow, gentle movement nicknamed “meditation in motion” be the answer to getting stronger and healthier, both physically and mentally? Tai chi supporters say it can, and as a senior health writer for The New York Times found, this exercise is also surprisingly effective for building strength. Even better, tai chi moves can be done by just about everyone, even if you’re elderly and in a wheelchair, the author says. Not only that, it can be practiced anywhere, any time and its benefits show up quickly.

For anyone wishing they could help themselves get stronger, particularly if you’re recovering from an illness that’s left you weak, tai chi is a good choice as both a starter exercise and a continuing routine that can help with balance, strength and flexibility. Balance is a key word here, as having a good sense of balance is important whether you’re an athlete trying to improve your performance or elderly and trying to maintain strength into your later years.

The reason tai chi moves work for this wide range of bodily moves is because successfully training your balance requires performing movements that closely approximate these activities, or activities that commonly result in falls. In fact, studies show that participants who engaged in the practice of tai chi had a significantly reduced risk of falling and demonstrated improved balance.

Other benefits of tai chi are that it’s a noncompetitive, nonaggressive and self-paced program that doesn’t require physical strength, agility or flexibility to begin. You actually gain strength and flexibility as you practice this gentle, slow-movement exercise that centers on fluidity of movement, breath control and mental concentration. In the end, tai chi encompasses cardiovascular fitness with flexibility and strength.

If you’re in chronic pain, you also will find relief in tai chi, as it stimulates the central nervous system, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress and tones muscles — all triggers that can exacerbate pain levels or even cause pain. If you’re in constant pain, it helps relieve the stiffness that can occur from lack of movement (which happens because you tend not to move when you’re in pain), and thus, can relieve the pain the stiffness causes. In other words, it can take you full-circle to a level that makes you feel better all over.

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