What is tai chi?
Tai chi originated in ancient China for selfdefense. It has evolved into a graceful form of exercise that helps to reduce stress and improve overall physical and mental health. While the movement is gentle, if you have a medical condition, check with your doctor before starting.
The following elements often make up a tai chi class:
Warm-up: Easy motions, such as shoulder circles, turning the head from side to side, or rocking back and forth begin the class. These help to loosen your muscles and joints and bring focus to your breath and body.
Instruction and practice of tai chi forms: The exercise involves performing a series of postures or movements in a slow, graceful way. Each posture flows into the next without pause. Motions practiced are named for animal actions, such as “white crane spreads its wings.”
Qigong: Translated as “breath work” or “energy work,” Qigong consists of a few minutes of gentle breathing, sometimes combined with movement to relax the mind and cultivate the body’s energy.
Low-impact cardiovascular training and range-of-motion
movement can help improve joint conditions
Walking, swimming, cycling and stretching can help with arthritis. Fight osteoporosis with weight-bearing exercise.
It’s hard to think about moving when you have joint pain or stiffness — but that may be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Why? First, so you “don’t lose what you already have in regards to range of motion and strength,” explains Kym Huie, who teaches a certified Arthritis Foundation exercise class two days a week at St. Anthony’s.
And second, he adds, “to maintain quality of life — because when mobility becomes limited, people become isolated and depressed, and this becomes a cycle that is hard to break.”
While arthritis and other joint problems may place restrictions on people’s exercise routines, doing something physical every day is not out of the question. Cardiovascular exercise, along with flexibility training and range-of-motion movement, can be part of a daily fitness routine. Take care with strength training, however. While shown to reduce symptoms of arthritis, it should not be done on a daily basis.
Be good to yourself
The key to exercising when you have a joint condition is to be gentle on your body. Every workout should start with a warm-up and end with a cool-down.
One of the best forms of exercise for people with limited movement is tai chi, a low-impact, slow-motion exercise that is often described as “meditation in motion.” The exercise entails going through a series of motions and breathing deeply and naturally. (See sidebar.) It differs from other types of exercise in several ways: The movements are usually circular and not forced, the muscles are relaxed (not tense), and the joints are not fully extended or bent. Anyone can do it, including those in wheelchairs and people recovering from surgery.
Tai chi has been found to improve muscle strength, flexibility, balance and aerobic conditioning. A 40-person study at Tufts University found that an hour of tai chi twice a week for 12 weeks reduced pain and improved mood and physical functioning more than standard stretching exercises in people with severe knee osteoarthritis. The study was presented in October 2008 at a meeting of the American College of Rheumatology. If you want to feel a little looser, lighter in spirit and even pain-free, tai chi and other kinds of light movement may be just the medicine you need.
For information, please call our Health Access Line at 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 800-554-9550 or visit find a physician online.
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