For seniors and older adults, Tai Chi improves balance, muscle size and strength, bone density, cognitive function, and mental health, among a myriad of other benefits.
You really can’t go wrong with Tai Chi unless of course, you are not steady enough for it. If you are already having severe balance problems then prior to engaging in a Tai Chi routine I would recommend working with a physical therapist to undergo a detailed balance assessment.
Please review the table of contents below to see what will be covered in this article.
Let’s dive in!
- Tai Chi has numerous health benefits ranging from balance to muscle strength.
- Research supports the use of Tai Chi in improving the health of seniors and older adults.
- There are many types of Tai Chi. I’ve listed the six primary types.
- Tai Chi is effective at preventing falls in the elderly.
- Tai Chi is not better than Yoga in terms of improving balance, it’s just different.
Why Is Tai Chi Helpful For Seniors?
There are numerous benefits that you will gain from Tai Chi, all of which I’ve covered in this article about the benefits of exercise for seniors.
Tai Chi is really just another form of exercise. It adds a bit more mindfulness which can turn it into more of a meditation, however, it’s still doing the same things on a physiological level that other forms of exercise are.
I’ll list the benefits all of which have been covered in the research articles I shared below.
- Improved executive function and cognition (better decision-making)
- Increased muscle mass
- Increase muscle strength
- Improved balance (fall reduction)
- Increased bone density
- Improved circulation
At its base level, movement of any form changes our physiology regardless of the philosophy behind it. Make sure you remember that!
What does the research say about Tai Chi?
In a systematic review published in 2017, the authors concluded that:
“Tai Chi is effective for preventing falls in older adults. The preventive effect is likely to increase with exercise frequency and Yang style Tai Chi seems to be more effective than Sun style Tai Chi.” – Huang ZG, Feng YH, Li YH, Lv CS. Systematic review and meta-analysis: Tai Chi for preventing falls in older adults. BMJ Open. 2017;7(2):e013661.
Another review and meta-analysis published in 2022 cited these findings:
“Regular Tai Chi practice could improve the CRF in the elderly, as indicated by significant improvement in indicators including VO2max, O2pulse, VC, and HR. However, gender and practice time might influence the overall beneficial outcomes.” – Tan T, Meng Y, Lyu JL, et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of tai chi training in cardiorespiratory fitness of elderly people. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2022;2022:4041612.
Another study done in 2016, assessed health outcomes based on all the available literature at the time and makes the conclusion that effects on cognitive function appear to be positive however more research is needed to make firm conclusions.
Overall the scientific literature is quite positive when it comes to Tai Chi and as was stated in one of the articles shared above, Tai Chi appears to have a dose-dependent relationship with all measured health outcomes, meaning, the more you do it, the larger positive effect it has.
There of course are upper limits to how much should be done however I have not seen a study that studies the relationship between upper and lower bound dosage of Tai-Chi. This type of study has been done for walking and it found that 16,000 seems to be the upper bound for health effects.
It’s hard to get 16,000 steps per day though. That’s between 2.5 to 3 hours of walking!
What are a few common Tai Chi Exercises?
Out of 108 different Tai Chi exercises, I’m going to share 15, below. If you want to see the full list of all 108 I’ve included a link to a different website.
- Opening and Closing Form
- Grasp Sparrow’s Tail
- Single Whip
- White Crane Spreads Its Wings
- Brush Knee and Twist Step
- Push Hands
- Ward Off
- Roll Back
- Elbow Strike
- Fair Lady Works the Shuttles
- High Pat on Horse
Please note that the names of the exercises may vary depending on the style and region of Tai Chi. The above list is a general collection of common Tai Chi exercises. Also, some of the exercises may be more advanced than others and may require a certain level of skill and experience to perform them safely and effectively.
What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art that is characterized by slow, graceful movements and deep breathing. There are several different styles of Tai Chi, each with their own unique characteristics and focuses.
I’ll list the most popular styles, below.
What are the different styles of Tai Chi?
- Chen Style: This is considered the original style of Tai Chi and is known for its fast, powerful movements and emphasis on martial arts applications.
- Yang Style: This is the most popular style of Tai Chi and is characterized by its slow, flowing movements and emphasis on health and wellness.
- Sun Style: This style is known for its emphasis on balance and agility, and is often used for rehabilitation and therapy.
- Wu (Hao) Style: This style is characterized by its small, circular movements and emphasis on internal energy cultivation.
- Wu Style: This style is characterized by its long, graceful movements and emphasis on balance and relaxation.
- Yang Chengfu Style: This style is known for its emphasis on posture and alignment, and is often used for health and wellness purposes.
All styles of Tai Chi share the same principles and base movements, but they each have their own unique approach and focus. The best way to determine which style is right for you is to try them out and see which one you enjoy and feel most comfortable with.
I routinely recommend Tai Chi to my clients (who are interested in it) as it can be a great way to improve your overall health.
Can Tai Chi Prevent Falls in the Elderly?
Tai Chi can prevent falls in the elderly however as I shared above if you are having severe balance disturbances and have already fallen several times in the past year, you should first work with a physical therapist to make sure that Tai Chi is the most appropriate balance training routine for you.
Is Tai Chi Better Than Yoga for seniors looking to improve balance?
Both Tai Chi and Yoga can be great methods to improve your balance and it’s really going to depend on your preference.
Tai Chi and yoga both teach breath control and also motor control.
They both focus on slow and controlled movements (depending on the style), and both can be quite challenging on your muscles.
Therefore, I can’t say that one is necessarily better than the other as it will depend on what you enjoy the most, what your ability levels are, and what you can be the most consistent with.
As I share with all my clients, if you can’t be consistent, reduce how long you are doing it, or change what you are doing.
I hope this was informative and helpful for you in choosing a movement practice that works for you.
If you have any questions at all please leave a comment below so that I can respond to it lickity split!