Is Tai Chi Considered Exercise?

Taijiquan exercises have a variety of positive effects on health and well-being. But is it considered exercise? And what health advantages might you anticipate from practicing it frequently?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans require 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, including two days of muscle strengthening. There are instances where tai chi can contribute to both of these physical activity standards, depending on the style of tai chi you’re doing and your personal level of fitness.

According to Rhayun Song, Ph.D., dean of the College of Nursing at Chungham National University in Korea and director of the university’s Tai Chi for Health Education and Research Center, this may be the case, for example, for people with chronic pain, arthritis, or limited mobility, for whom exercise would otherwise seem burdensome or out of reach.

Dr. Song, a Tai Chi for Health Institute-certified Tai Chi Master Trainer since 2004, claims that the way tai chi is practiced—the slow, soft movements, bending knees, and using weight transfer—leads to significantly greater benefits than standard walking.

For Americans suffering from arthritis-related mobility problems, flexibility problems, and stress, she claims incorporating tai chi into your everyday life might result in “substantial gains.”

Others who are physically fit and in good health may find it to be a great exercise to challenge their muscle strength and flexibility while tying their mind and body together, according to Song.

Why Tai chi is Beneficial for Fitness

According to Paul Lam, MD, a family doctor who has been a tai chi teacher for more than 40 years, tai chi is a mind-body workout that has its roots in martial arts and was first practiced in ancient China. The Tai Chi for Health Institute, which focuses on creating tai chi exercises to alleviate health concerns like osteoporosis, diabetes, and fall prevention, was formed in 2010 by Dr. Lam and his medical staff.

You should think of tai chi as a multifaceted exercise, advises Kristi Hallisy, PT, DSc, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and a certified instructor in tai chi fundamentals. She has contributed to the creation of rehabilitation initiatives based on the principles of tai chi that encourage healthy aging and fall prevention.

Benefits of Strengthening Muscles
As you stand up straight, move gently as though you’re pushing against light resistance, and then shift your weight and hold poses, such as standing on one leg or maintaining a squat position, tai chi provides a full-body workout with muscle development, according to Hallisy.

According to Shirley Chock, owner and executive director of Aiping Tai Chi, a tai chi school in Milford, Connecticut, tai chi can be particularly useful for regaining strength in people undergoing physical therapy after an injury as well as for seniors looking to improve their mobility and avoid falling.

One study involving 702 participants indicated that 16 one-hour weekly community-based tai chi lessons significantly decreased the number of multiple falls for participants by 67 percent. The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Regarding her rehab patients, Hallisy continues, “I’ve had folks take five sessions and learn the exercises to change their balance, strength, and confidence with daily walking or climbing up the stairs.”

Aerobic Advantages

According to research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology that involved more than 61,400 men in China, those who consistently practiced tai chi reduced their risk of death by the same amount as those who started jogging. Even in healthy people, frequent tai chi practice enhanced cardiovascular health, particularly heart and lung health, according to another analysis that was published in the journal PLoS One (PDF).

According to research, tai chi can also help people lose weight, particularly those who are 50 and older. In a 2021 study, 550 persons at least 50 years old were randomly assigned to tai chi for three one-hour sessions per week, aerobic exercise plus strength training three times per week, or no exercise at all for 12 weeks. Both the tai chi group and the group who performed standard aerobic exercise lost weight around their waists. Tai chi practitioners, however, dropped 0.7 more inches than brisk walkers who also conducted strength training.

Benefits of Mental Fitness

Additionally, it’s a cerebral exercise that involves learning deep breathing methods, awareness, and intentional movement for everyone.

You develop your ability to be in the now, aware of your surroundings, and in sync with your body through practice. This facilitates coordinated movement, according to Chock. That is advantageous to all levels of fitness.

Does Tai Chi Fit Into My Weekly Physical Activity, Then?

Tai chi does qualify as physical activity. The amount of effort you put into your practice and your level of fitness will determine whether or not a tai chi session counts toward your weekly aerobic and strength training standards.

According to Hallisy, it’s a “mild to a moderate aerobic workout,” however this varies on the practitioner’s technique and level of fitness. Tai chi has some martial arts-related lineages, which can considerably increase the intensity.

According to Chock, focusing on the difficulty of balance and building muscle strength from a tai chi session can be an adequate full-body workout for an older adult with low aerobic fitness.

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However, if a person routinely engages in HIIT workouts multiple times per week, does a large amount of strength training, and engages in slower-paced tai chi exercises, they might not be able to increase the intensity to get a sufficient strength or aerobic workout. However, Chock asserts that a harder, faster-paced kind of tai chi, such as Chen tai chi, may in fact provide a demanding workout.

It’s also important to keep in mind that even those with great levels of fitness may like a slower-paced, calmer variation of tai chi for a day off in between challenging cardio exercises.

How to Include Tai Chi in a Weekly Exercise Program
No of your age or level of fitness, here are four suggestions for getting started with tai chi:

1. Select the best style for you
Choose the appropriate form for you to practice before you begin tai chi. The Yang style is the most widely used type today and is characterized by slow, steady motions, among others, according to Lam. The Chen style is the earliest variety.

In order to adapt the practice for people with varying physical capacities, the majority of styles include modified versions that involve remaining seated for some or all of the class, using a chair or the wall for extra balance when necessary, or keeping both feet firmly planted on the ground.

2. Put safety first if you have limited mobility or physical fitness.
Choose a light technique you can comfortably practice for around 10 minutes each day if it’s your main workout due to a prior injury or challenges with balance and stability, advises Lam.

3. Do Not Let Age Discourage You
The fact that tai chi is seen as a moderate form of exercise shouldn’t deter younger Americans from taking it up, according to Chock. From 12 years old to 90 years old, her students span the age spectrum. She claims that while the lessons different age groups choose and the results they get may vary, the practice has the same basic advantages of stress reduction and mindfulness.

4. Maintain Your Practice Consistency
The secret to getting success is regular practice: According to Lam, people should practice tai chi for at least 10 minutes every day to establish a pattern, but ideally, they should practice for 20 to 30 minutes every day. According to Hallisy, it can be used as a stand-alone resistance training exercise for people with lesser fitness levels or as part of a complete workout plan that also includes cardio and weight training.

Within a few months of practice, you’ll see improvements in your leg strength, balance, flexibility, and posture.

Clinical investigations have shown that improvements can be seen in as little as six weeks to three months, according to Hallisy. However, in order to maintain your increased mobility, you’ll need to continue practicing tai chi regularly.

“If you keep at it long enough, you’ll discover that the movements are guided by the intention of the mind. According to Chock, the goal is to reduce physical and mental stress.

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The key, according to Song, is whether the activity is engaging enough to hold participants’ attention for that long and secure enough for them to continue. She continues, “In general, more movement results in higher fitness and health benefits.”

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