Regular exercising helps older adults maintain balance and flexibility and keep their joints from becoming stiff. It also offers several other physical and mental health benefits, so it’s a great idea to remain active as we age.
Tai chi is an example of a great physical activity for older people to practice. It features a series of gentle physical exercises and stretches that can help keep the body fit. Seasons Retirement, a reputed retirement home in Canada, encourages residents to engage in exercises like Tai chi to promote an active and healthy lifestyle.
This article will discuss what Tai Chi is, its benefits for older adults, introductory Tai chi moves you can practice at home, and safety tips for this activity.
Tai chi is an old Chinese martial art with its origin dating back to 2000 years ago. At first, it was developed as a form of self-defence. However, in recent years, Tai chi has been used for relaxation and meditation.
This gentle exercise is believed to be the oldest form of martial arts and has been practiced for centuries. Tai chi is particularly beneficial for older adults because it is low-impact and doesn’t exert too much stress on the joints and muscles.
Tai chi movements are based on the yin and yang principles, which are the idea of balance between opposing forces. These movements help to bring the body and mind into harmony and balance, which is why it is often referred to as “meditation in motion.”
Furthermore, this physical activity involves pairing deep breathing with movements. Although a deep knowledge of its history isn’t needed to practice Tai chi, understanding the breathing techniques, how the movements work, and the benefits of this martial art can make it easier to stick with the practice and reap the benefits.
Tai chi comprises several simple, practical exercises which can help improve balance and flexibility, reduce stress, and increase muscle strength.
Its techniques enhance balance and flexibility by improving the range of motion of the joints and muscles. And these are especially important for older adults as fall accidents are common among them.
Finally, Tai chi moves can help reduce stress and anxiety by calming the mind and body. The slow and gentle movements induce relaxation, and the deep breathing helps to improve focus and clarity.
Here are some basic Tai chi exercises for seniors:
Here’s how to practice this move:
- Stand erect with your legs a little wider apart than your hip distance, and your knees slightly bent.
- Slowly familiarize yourself with shifting your weight from left to right while resting your arms on your hips. Note that you can use the back of a chair as an armrest.
- Gradually shift about 70 percent of your weight onto one leg.
- Switch to the other leg.
- Repeat up to 5 times.
Touch the sky is one of the most basic Tai chi moves, so it is suitable for beginners. This move can be a warm-up since it helps synchronize your movement and breathing.
- Get comfortable in a chair and sit up straight.
- Keep your hands on your lap, palms up, and fingertips pointing toward each other.
- Raise your hands to chest height, palms facing outward, and raise them above your head while taking a calm, deep breath.
- Keep your elbows bent slightly and relaxed, and avoid reaching out too much with your arms.
- Slowly and fully exhale, allowing your shoulders to drop to your sides while you further relax your arms.
- Return your hands to the starting position after exhaling.
- Repeat ten times.
The windmill is a basic Tai chi move that promotes body flexibility and opens up the spine. Here’s how to perform the exercise:
- Stand with both feet spread apart a small amount wider than your shoulder width.
- Relax your shoulder muscles while allowing your arms to hang free beside you.
- Bring your arms forward with your fingers pointing downward.
- Inhale as you raise your arms towards your chest and over your head. Ensure your fingers are still pointing downwards while at it.
- Reach for the ceiling and slightly arch your spine backwards.
- Exhale and bend your neck forward while moving your hands down.
- Bend forward at your hips and loosely hang your arms in front of your body.
- Return to your starting position while inhaling.
This Tai chi move focuses on improving flexibility in the arms, fingers, and shoulders. The steps to follow to practice this activity include:
- Stand with your feet slightly wider apart than your shoulder-width.
- Raise your arms in front of you, parallel with the floor. Ensure your shoulder, wrists, and elbows are aligned.
- Flex your arms to generate tension in the muscles and feel them stretch.
- Pivot your wrists in both directions, rotating to both sides.
You can use this move to conclude your exercise routine or Tai chi workout session.
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart as you stand. Put your hands in front of your pelvic bone in a cupped posture with your palms facing up, relaxing your shoulders while at it.
- As you move your hands up to your body’s center and onto your chest, close your eyes and visualize pushing your energy upward.
- Exhale and rotate your arms until your palms are facing downward.
- As you press your hands toward the floor, visualize pushing your energy downward.
- Continue for at least one minute.
These safety precautions are helpful for older adults practicing Tai chi:
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing and shoes that provide good support when practicing Tai chi movements.
- Warm up for a few minutes before starting more intense Tai chi moves.
- Stop whenever you feel any discomfort or pain.
- Move slowly and focus on proper form and posture.
- Ensure you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated while working out.
- If you feel dizzy or light-headed, stop and rest.
Tai chi movements are low-intensity and easier for older adults, which can help improve balance and flexibility, reduce stress, and increase muscle strength.
It is advised to start with the basic and most straightforward Tai chi moves and to incorporate stretching and strengthening exercises into your practice.
There are several Tai Chi videos specifically designed to help older adults get through performing the moves above, and it’s highly recommended you consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercises.