Friday, April 8, 2011

Tai Chi: Go Slow to Improve Cardiovascular Health

You’ve probably heard the old adage, slow and steady wins the race.

Practitioners of Tai Chi, the ancient form of mindful exercise, know that by moving slowly through specific, simple movements, they can increase longevity and significantly improve heart health. Tai Chi has been used in China for millennia as a form of exercise that is especially suited for seniors. Today, Tai Chi is a medically accepted form of holistic exercise with benefits ranging from lowering blood pressure to potentially staving off Alzheimer's disease.


Tai Chi is based on the Eastern mind-body philosophy that chi (the vital life force--pronounced chee) flows throughout the body. If the flow of chi is interrupted, a person’s health becomes unbalanced. Imbalances result in disease and illness. Restoring the balance of chi is the goal of Tai Chi.

Derived from martial arts, Tai Chi is made up of slow, deliberate movements accompanied by deep breathing techniques and meditation. Tai Chi exercises encourage practitioners to move from their center of gravity. This enhances balance, agility, strength, flexibility and stamina—especially in the joints. All major muscle groups get a gentle, but thorough workout.

Tai Chi’s gentle, low impact movements have an added benefit: they burn almost as many calories per hour as downhill skiing.

But Tai Chi’s benefits go deeper. Through maintaining deep breathing during Tai Chi, practitioners build lung capacity, improve over all blood circulation to the brain (thus helping to prevent dementia) and decrease stress levels that lead to cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.


In a study published in the Journal of Biomedical Gerontology, men and women 60 and older who practiced Tai Chi for 20 minutes a day lowered their blood pressure and heart rate, as well as significantly reducing the activity of their sympathetic nervous system—the part of the brain responsible for the “fight or flight” response.

An excessively stimulated sympathetic nervous system leads to serious alterations in cardiovascular health and is responsible for metabolic conditions such as diabetes and renal failure.

Tai Chi also helps practitioners get better sleep— a key component to heart health. People with chronic heart failure often have insomnia and impaired breathing while sleeping—key factors the lead to dangerous heart rhythm disturbances.

According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, just two weeks of Tai Chi training helped patients with sleep disorders significantly improve their sleep stability and quality of life.

To view a Tai Chi class for seniors click here:

To get a free Tai Chi lesson, find a Tai Chi class and find out more about World Tai Chi Day (coming April 30), visit