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Adding physical activity to your day isn’t all about being drenched in sweat while lifting heavy weights or running intervals on the treadmill . In fact, meeting the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation of doing muscle-strengthening activities two or more days per week doesn’t require dumbbells at all.
Let us introduce tai chi (pronounced TIE-CHEE), a gentle but effective practice that can help strengthen and stretch muscles while improving balance. To learn more, we brought in experts George Yang, ISSA- and IFPA-certified fitness trainer and the founder and chief designer at Yanre Fitness , as well as Jenelle Kim, DACM, expert martial artist and author of Myung Sung: The Korean Art of Living Meditation (Watkins Publishing, 2022).
Trust us when we say, you’ll be wondering why you didn’t add tai chi to your exercise routine earlier.
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition often referred to as “meditation in motion.” The movements are slow and focused, with each posture continuously flowing into the next. There are many different styles, but they all remain low impact while incorporating deep breathing , focus and relaxation.
The five different types of tai chi are called Chen, Yang, Hao, Wu and Sun. While they are all unique, they also have the same purpose. “My master has always said, ‘All true tai chi masters look the same when they fight.’ It’s like climbing a mountain,” Yang says. “[The styles] might start on opposite sides of the mountain, but when they get to the pinnacle of tai chi, they’re all at the same place.”
For instance, Kim enjoys her daily routine of qigong (CHEE-gung). Instead of multiple movements flowing into each other, qigong focuses on one movement being repeated. She mentions in doing this that you may find “longevity, ultimate health inside and out, and your way of connecting to the earth and nature around you.”
For both Kim and Yang, tai chi is just a natural part of their daily routine. Kim states that it is an “amazing practice for anyone at any age” and that it can “bring both physical and mental benefits.”
The following are some of the science-backed benefits you may notice once you add tai chi to your exercise routine :
While it’s not guaranteed you will receive all these benefits once you start practicing tai chi, the research is promising. Plus, tai chi is a generally safe exercise that won’t come with unpleasant side effects, as long as the moves are done properly.
If you’re ready to add tai chi to your exercise routine , do so in a way that works best for you. “Make it convenient for yourself,” Kim suggests. “Pick a time every day to try to incorporate it or a few times per week until it’s a habit.”
While you can easily search for videos of different tai chi moves to do from home, it may be best for beginners to scope out a local gym or studio that offers tai chi to ensure the moves are being done correctly. If that’s an option for you, Kim recommends finding a place that is connected to a “master” or a very good teacher.
Whether you’re at home or the gym, avoid wearing anything too restrictive while you’re going through the tai chi motions. “You don’t ever want to cut off flow, so loose clothing is typical attire,” Kim says.
When it’s all said and done, you just have to start without any set rules. “It’s an exercise anybody can do, no matter what kind of shape they’re in, and has all the benefits associated with regular exercise,” Yang concludes.