What Is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is a type of low-impact, weight-bearing, and aerobic — yet relaxing — exercise that began as a martial art. As it developed, it took on the purpose of enhancing physical and mental health. Practiced in a variety of styles, Tai Chi involves slow, gentle movements, deep breathing, and meditation. The meditation is sometimes called “moving meditation.”
Tai Chi improves the flow of energy through the body, leading to greater awareness, calmness, and an overall sense of wellness.
What Are the Health Benefits of Tai Chi?
Here’s a look at some of Tai Chi’s potential perks:
Improved strength and better balance. Oregon Research Institute found that, after 6 months, Tai Chi participants were twice as likely to have no trouble performing moderate to rigorous activities as nonparticipants. The benefit was greatest among those who started with the poorest health or worst function. Other research has shown a reduction in falls among people who do Tai Chi. Two studies sponsored by the National Institute on Aging found that Tai Chi exercises cut the fear of falling and risk of falls among older people. Two small sports medicine studies suggest that Tai Chi may improve sensitivity to nerve signals in ankles and knees, which might prevent falls.
Reduced pain and stiffness. People with osteoarthritis assigned to a Tai Chi group during a 3-month study reported less joint pain and stiffness than when they started. They also had less pain and stiffness than patients in a control group.
Enhanced sleep. Exploring Tai Chi’s impact on sleep, the Oregon researchers found that Tai Chi participants had improved sleep quality and length. A UCLA study of Tai Chi chih, a Westernized version of Tai Chi, also supports claims of sleep benefits. Two-thirds of the people practicing Tai Chi chih had major improvements in sleep quality. The benefits are similar to those gained through drugs or cognitive behavioral therapy.
Increased immunity to shingles. Characterized by a painful, blistering skin rash, shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. In a shingles study, researchers found that Tai Chi prompted an immune response to the varicella zoster virus similar to that prompted by the varicella vaccine. When combined with the vaccine, Tai Chi helped create even greater levels of immunity — double those of the control group.
What Is Qigong?
Qigong — pronounced chee gong — is a practice that involves a series of postures and exercises including slow, circular movements, regulated breathing, focused meditation, and self-massage.
There are a variety of styles, and they are classified as martial, medical, or spiritual. Some qigong styles are gentler like Tai Chi and can easily be adapted. Others are more vigorous like kung fu.
One unique feature of Qigong is its ability to train the mind to direct the body’s energy, or Chi, to any part of the body. Some believe that, when moved correctly, Chi can bring your body to a natural state of balance.
What Are the Health Benefits of Qigong?
Qigong is believed to relax the mind, muscles, tendons, joints, and inner organs — helping to improve circulation, relieve stress and pain, and restore health. It’s practiced widely in China’s clinics and hospitals.
Some believe that as a complement to Western medicine, Qigong can help the body heal itself, slowing or even reversing the effects of certain conditions. For example, in a study lasting 20 years, people with hypertension were given drugs to control blood pressure. At first, all participants had a drop in blood pressure, but blood pressure among those who were practicing Qigong stabilized over time. The Qigong group members were also able to lower their use of blood pressure drugs. The control group, however, had an increase in blood pressure, requiring greater use of drugs.
In addition to lower blood pressure, Qigong may have other benefits, including:
Increased stamina and vitality
Enhanced immune system
Improved cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic, and digestive functions
Decreased risk of falling
Reduced symptoms and improved function in people with fibromyalgia
Are There Any Special Precautions for Tai Chi or Qigong?
Both Tai Chi and Qigong are gentle exercises with few risks. However, if you are older, have a health condition, or have not exercised in a long time, talk to your doctor before you try either of these practices. Think of both as complements to Western medicine, and not replacements for it.
In general, use caution if you are pregnant or if you have a joint problem or severe osteoporosis. It’s best not to do Tai Chi or Qigong right after eating, if you are very tired, or if you have an active infection.