You Don’t Have To Run A Marathon

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You Don’t Have To Run A Marathon

Tai Chi and Qi Gong: Exercise for people of all ages

Some patients come to acupuncturists with chronic aches and pains from sitting too much, while others come with injuries caused by over-doing it at their last workout session.  Although they develop for different reasons, TCM views both of these types of pain as the result of stagnation.  Whether you have low back, neck, or shoulder pain from sitting at the computer, or acute knee pain from pounding the pavement too hard, Tai Chi and Qi Gong are two systems of exercise that get your Qi and blood moving, with great benefits for physical health, mental health, and recovery from pain.  They are holistic approaches to movement that build strength, respiratory capacity, flexibility, and balance, without being too hard on your body.

Tai Chi is kind of like a slowed-down, meditative Kung Fu, while Qi Gong is more stationary, but both Qi Gong and Tai Chi use a range of flowing, dance-like motions, and they both can involve sitting or standing meditation postures. Most importantly, both Tai Chi and Qi Gong coordinate deep breathing and mental focus with the movements of the body.  They may not be as cardio-intensive as running, but a friend came to a Qi Gong class with me a while back, and after 15 minutes of those slow, meditative movements, she had to sit down for a bit – her lungs weren’t used to so much oxygen!  Most of us are breathing shallowly all the time and don’t even realize it.  A class in Tai Chi or Qi Gong can really show your lungs what they’ve been missing!   They are also a great option for people who want to have a meditation practice that incorporates movement.

The benefits of these exercise systems have been well-documented and include pain relief, improved bone density, better heart and respiratory function, and improved balance, as well as improved mood and mental outlook.  In the last few months two important studies have documented the benefits of Tai Chi for people with Chronic Heart Failure and Parkinson’s disease.  In patients with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease, for instance, there was significant improvement in balance with the additional benefits of improved functional capacity and reduced falls.  For patients with Chronic Heart Failure, improvements were seen in mood, quality of life, and outlook on life.  All of these results may make it sound like Tai Chi and Qi Gong are only for elderly people.  While they hold great benefits for middle- and older-aged people, Tai Chi and Qi Gong are a great balance to more intensive exercise for young people as well.  Young men growing up in the Shaolin Temple practice Qi Gong every day as a part of their Kung Fu training!  Classes in Tai Chi and Qi Gong can often be found at local community colleges, or ask your acupuncturist for teachers they recommend in your area.

[Photo Credit: Edwin Lee]

Editor’s update:  This April (2012), two small but promising studies have been published about Tai Chi and Yoga!  One, showed that Tai Chi is a great exercise for older persons to improve both cardiovascular function and muscle strength.   The other found that Yoga had positive psychological effects for high-school students in a pilot study.

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