A long morning walk or a light jog will certainly leave you feeling refreshed and give you a boost of energy. But if you want to get more from your daily efforts try a relaxing practice like tai chi. Originally practiced as a martial art in China, in the west, tai chi's particular emphasis is on wellness. In fact, there is no better form of exercise that'll improve your balance and flexibility, and keep you looking and feeling young too.
The anti-aging benefits of tai chi
A growing body of research is building a compelling case for tai chi and its anti-aging benefits. Let's take a look at four of them:
1. It reduces inflammation: Inflammation occurs as a result of the body's attempt to heal an injury. But stress or lack of sleep can ramp up inflammation, causing heart problems, stroke, diabetes, autoimmune disease and cancer. Tai chi however, can control this response, especially when practiced on a daily basis. In fact, a study published in Biological Psychiatry found that the meditative movements of tai chi reversed the activation of inflammatory signaling pathways, reducing inflammation.
2. It eases knee pain: The statistics are shocking: the Centre for Disease Control reported that almost 50 percent of adults aged 65 and older have arthritis. What's more, by 2030, it is projected that nearly 67 million Americans aged 18 and older will suffer from this condition. One of the most common types is osteoarthritis in the knee - a condition where the joint cartilage breaks down.
Physical therapy has been found to help with this. However, adding tai chi to your fitness routine has been found to ease knee pain all the more. In addition, a study at Tufts University revealed that people who performed two weeks of classical yang-style tai chi (twice per week) used less pain medication in comparison to the group that did physical therapy twice a week. Furthermore, the tai chi group reported a mood boost from the practice.
3. It boosts strength: Muscle strength begins to decrease with age once we hit our 30s. But, it tends to speed up after the age of 65. Consequently, less muscle strength leaves us at a greater risk of falls and fractures. According to a number of studies, practicing tai chi provides a gentle way to preserve muscle in people over 50.
4. It slows down aging: CD 34+ cells are responsible for new cell growth and renewal. Research has found that volunteers who engaged in tai chi boasted a significantly higher number of CD 34+ cells than the group that didn't exercise at all.
Tai chi for anti aging
Add these simple moves, brought to you by Joe Pinella, who has been practicing and teaching tai chi and qigong for over 50 years, to your exercise regime:
1. Gathering yang chi from the universe
Photo credit: Matt Rainey
Benefits: Opens the sternum and helps with slumped posture caused by sitting and working on the computer. It encourages you to breathe deeply, taking in more oxygen and energy.
1. Keep your feet parallel to one another, a little closer than shoulder-width apart. Keep your arms at your sides and your shoulders relaxed. Find your balance.
2. Take a deep breath in from your abdomen. As you do so, raise your arms, palms facing up, to the front, reaching them overhead. At this point, your palms should be facing each other. Hold your body and breath briefly.
3. Exhale, taking your arms down to the side. Reach out from your shoulders and keep your palms up. Hold for a short while.
4. Now turn your palms to face the front and take a reverse breath as you suck in your belly and move your straight arms backward from the chest.
5. Exhale gently and bring your arms back to your side, palms facing your body. Repeat 9 times.
2. Drawing yin chi from the Earth
Photo credit: Matt Rainey
Benefits: Practice this move to strengthen the diaphragm and build up lung power. It also helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, helping the body to relax deeply.
1. Stand with your feet parallel to your arms at your sides. Take a reverse breath, sucking your belly in as you roll your shoulders back, lifting your arms from your sides. Turn your palms so that they face up and bring them up and over your head. Your palms should be facing each other, but not touching.
2. As you exhale, turn your palms outward and bring your arms back down to your sides.
3. As you take each inhale, imagine that you are drawing energy from the earth through your feet and all the way up to your fingertips.
3. Cloudy hands
Photo credit: Matt Rainey
Benefits: This pose allows energy to flow through the entire body. If done correctly, it may also serve as a good core workout. The controlled shifting of the weight helps with balance and strengthens the legs, particularly the inner thighs.
1. Keep your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width. Keep your body relaxed and breathe normally.
2. Bring your right hand up and look at your palm. Then shift your weight over your right knee (which should be slightly bent). Turn to the right from the waist only. Your right hand will automatically move to the right.
3. While in this position, let the right hand gently float down, and bring your left hand up - look at the palm.
4. Slowly shift your weight over the left knee and turn to the left from the waist. Your left hand should automatically turn as you twist from the waist.
5. Repeat this back and forth motion, remembering to shift first then turn from the waist. To end, return back to a neutral stance and bring your arms down, releasing the energy.