Tai Chi can be thought of as a system for health cultivation and preservation. It accords with the well know maxim ‘prevention is better than cure’, being a wonderful form of preventative health care with benefits across a broad range of areas, both physical and psychological. In this article I’ll focus on the potential cardiopulmonary benefits of Tai Chi practice.
One of the special things about the practice of Tai Chi is the relationship between movement and breath. Over time and with consistent practice, the breathing is maintained in a deep and steady rate, even when the exercise is quite vigorous. This combination of deep and slow breathing while exercising is unusual and gives the combined benefits of exercise and meditation.
This can have significant benefits for cardiopulmonary health. Various studies have consistently shown Tai Chi to be an effective intervention for reducing blood pressure . This is not only when compared with inactivity, but also when compared against aerobic exercise . Tai Chi has also been shown to decrease resting heart rate .
Overall this combination of lower blood pressure and heart rate will result in less wear and tear on the blood vessels, and can therefore help lower the risk of stroke and cerebral aneurysm . Indeed, biomarkers of heart health have been shown to increase with the practice of Tai Chi .
Tai Chi has recently been shown to have a positive impact on two other indicators of health. It can increase heart rate variability (HRV) , as well as increasing Peak Oxygen Uptake . You might have thought it a good sign if your heart beat has a very constant rhythm, but this isn’t actually the case. Having micro-adjustments in the rhythm of your heart beat is a sign of adaptability and resilience to stress , and this is what HRV refers to.
Peak Oxygen Uptake has recently been used as the basis for establishing a person’s ‘Fitness Age’, which can be markedly different to their chronological age . Unlike chronological age, your Fitness Age is responsive to lifestyle, and so can go both upwards and downwards. So it looks like you can turn back the hands of time after all! What’s more, it appears Fitness Age may even be a better predictor of longevity than some traditionally used risk factors such as being overweight, having high cholesterol, or smoking. Indeed, people with a low Fitness Age may have as much as an 82% higher chance of dying prematurely .
So get moving! Whether it’s Tai Chi or some other form of exercise, the most important thing is to move your body, and to breathe deep and fill your lungs.
I have attempted to highlight some of the health benefits associated with Tai Chi, but it’s really i've only just scratched the surface. And it is worth mentioning that most of the studies into Tai Chi are based on short term interventions of only a few weeks or months. Historically Tai Chi has been practiced as a lifestyle for a whole lifetime and it seems reasonable to suppose that the benefits will be much greater when practiced in this way.
Furthermore, Tai Chi is a holistic methodology, and as such it’s very difficult to compartmentalise all the benefits. Mind and body are not two, but one complex system made up of many interdependent aspects, that all feedback into each other. So the best way to really experience the benefits of Tai Chi is, of course, to give it a try!
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3. Breathing and Your Brain: Five Reasons to Grab The Controls. David DiSalvo. Forbes
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