Practiced for centuries in China, tai chi has become popular in the United States in recent years, thanks in part to the growing evidence for its many health benefits. Not only does tai chi improve balance and flexibility, it can prevent falls, ease pain, and even help your heart.

“This flowing, meditative practice is an ideal exercise for older people with health issues,” Julie Corliss writes for Harvard Health’s “Tai chi can improve life for people with chronic health conditions.”

“Like walking, which can be leisurely or brisk, tai chi is easily adaptable. You can do the gentle movements sitting on a chair or standing up. You can repeat the sequences of movements to gradually strengthen your muscles. Like yoga, tai chi stretches your joints and connective tissues. But you don‰Ûªt have to get down on the floor ‰ÛÓ a boon for people with limited mobility. And similar to yoga and meditation, tai chi also encourages deep, slow breathing.”

“As I wrote in the September Harvard Heart Letter, hundreds of studies dating back to the late 1950s suggest that tai chi offers modest benefits for treating high blood pressure and other heart-related conditions,” Corliss says. “The latest research, published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, suggests that doing tai chi can help older adults with common, long-term health conditions move about more easily and enhance their quality of life.”

“Researchers analyzed data from 33 studies involving nearly 1,600 adults. Most were in their 60s or 70s and all had one or more chronic conditions: osteoarthritis, breast cancer, heart failure, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a serious lung condition that includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.”

“All the studies were randomized and controlled: they compared people who did tai chi with those who either did another type of exercise or were waiting to join a tai chi class. Over all, people who did tai chi showed greater improvements on a six-minute walking test, in muscle strength (measured by bending and stretching the knees), and in quality of life. People with osteoarthritis didn‰Ûªt reap as much in terms of strength as those with other conditions, but their pain and stiffness improved. And people with COPD who did tai chi noted less breathlessness.”

The quality of life improvements may stem from the meditative, mind-calming aspects of tai chi, says Peter Wayne, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. ‰ÛÏTai chi integrates physical activity, breathing, and a variety of cognitive skills, including imagery and visualization,‰Û says Wayne.

“Of the 58 academic health centers throughout the United States that have integrative health programs, many offer tai chi classes. Tai chi is also incorporated into many cardiac rehabilitation programs, including those affiliated with several Harvard teaching hospitals. And many assisted living facilities offer tai chi classes free for their residents.”

Any of your nearby facilities offering tai chi classes can target the 12.1% of adults who describe themselves as Chronic Pain Sufferers. AudienceSCAN has the details to help you introduce them to those in pain. 53% of pained people get most of their local news from TV. In the past month, 30% took action after getting sponsored search results (like on Google, Yahoo or Bing). And 46% took action after reading ads in their newspapers in the past year.

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