Benefits of T'ai Chi

by Tim Bernath-Plaisted


T'ai Chi has come to the forefront recently as an important exercise for maintaining health in people of all ages. Many discussions and studies have pointed to the use of this low impact exercise for a multitude of health related issues. In pursuing information on some of the benefits of T'ai Chi, I have come across many studies, theories, and stories. In an effort to present what I feel to be some of the more important benefits I will highlight only a few topics.

Blood Pressure has become an important issue with many of us. Even when it is not a health issue for us, hypertension is a condition, which deserves our attention. High blood pressure has been labeled as one of the major risk factor for heart disease. T'ai Chi, as an exercise, has been found to help with this condition.

In June 1996 British researchers reported in the Postgraduate Medical Journal on the effects of T'ai Chi in a cardiac rehabilitation program. In a group of 126 heart attack patients T'ai Chi was compared with aerobic exercise and a non-exercise support group. After eight weeks it was found that both exercise groups showed a reduction in systolic pressure. Only the T'ai Chi group however, showed a reduction in the resting heart rate and diastolic blood pressure. This is a significant study, which shows a clear advantage of T'ai Chi, over aerobic exercise, in helping to curve the effects of hypertension. The researchers also noted that T'ai Chi's low impact and gentle movement may suite older people who may be unable to participate in more vigorous exercise.

Other studies have pointed to the effects of T'ai Chi on the brain. It has been shown that while practicing the slow movements of T'ai Chi, the brain wave pattern moves into an alpha, or Meditation State. Moving into this mediation state may then help to reduce stress. The reduction of stress could in turn help to control blood pressure.

It is important to note another physiological change that takes place while practicing the T'ai Chi. As we move our body through these slow movements our breath begins to relax and deepen. This deepening of the breath allows more oxygen to enter our bloodstream. When there is more oxygen in the blood, each beat of the heart becomes more efficient in delivering oxygen to our body. This means that our heart no longer needs to work as hard to do its job.