Give Tai Chi a Try

Not many people can deny that becoming and staying physically active[1] is a good thing. After all, the benefits of being active far outweigh the risks. Some of the reasons to fit physical activity into your day include better blood sugars[2], lower blood pressure[3], weight control[4], and stress reduction[5] — and there are many more!

If you’re struggling to find an activity that you enjoy doing, if you need a gentler way to move more, or if your goal is to help better manage the daily stresses of life, consider trying tai chi.

To get cutting-edge diabetes news, strategies for blood glucose management, nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletters[6]!

What is tai chi?

Have you ever driven by a group of people doing slow, coordinated movements and wondered what they were doing? Chances are, they were doing tai chi.

“Tai chi is a centuries-old practice[7] that involves certain postures and gentle movements with mental focus, breathing, and relaxation,” says the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative health. This ancient form of exercise is credited to a Taoist monk, Zhang San Feng, and was created as a martial art. It dates back over 700 years, and possibly longer.

Unlike faster-paced forms of exercise, tai chi is low impact, slow, and gentle, which makes it a great choice for people who aren’t used to being active or who have difficulty with other types of exercise. Tai chi movements can be adapted while walking[8], standing, or sitting, so it’s accessible to just about everyone. And if practiced quickly, it can give you a decent workout.

The concepts of tai chi include[9] unblocking and encouraging the flow of “qi,” the energy force that flows through the body, and balancing yin and yang, the opposing elements that need to be kept in harmony, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

Each posture of tai chi flows into the next, without pausing, which means that the body is constantly in motion. The Tai Chi for Health Institute says that there are many styles and forms of tai chi[10], including Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun. While each style differs, they are based on these essential principles:

What are the benefits of tai chi?

Practitioners of tai chi consider this to be a form of meditation — in fact, it’s often called “meditation in motion.” This mind-body practice provides numerous mental and physical benefits that make this appealing to many people of all ages, for many reasons. Here are the main benefits of tai chi:

Tai chi may even help with weight loss[18]. Like walking, tai chi is considered to be a form of moderate-intensity physical activity. A 2015 study in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine[19] indicates that participants who did tai chi or walking five days per week for 12 weeks lost similar amounts of weight and reduced waist size. Another study, published in May 2021 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine[20], showed that people who did tai chi for three months decreased their waist size and were able to sustain that loss after six months, compared with people doing another type of exercise or no exercise at all.

While tai chi provides a total body workout, it excels at reducing stress by helping to lower levels of cortisol. And not only does cortisol raise stress, it can lead to weight gain, as well.

If you have diabetes, tai chi can help you manage your blood sugars with regular practice. Plus, tai chi helps with enhancing mindfulness. This, in turn, can help decrease mindless eating (and that helps with blood sugar control, too!).

Who can do tai chi?

You might be wondering if tai chi is suitable for you. Because it’s a low-impact type of exercise, tai chi puts minimal stress on joints and muscles, making it safe for people of all ages and fitness levels. However, if you have joint problems, back pain, fractures, severe osteoporosis, or a hernia, or if you’re pregnant, you should check with your health care provider before starting tai chi, advises the Mayo Clinic[21]. You may need to modify or even avoid certain postures.

Here are other reasons to consider trying tai chi:

Getting started

Ready to give tai chi a try? Once you’ve gotten the green light from your health care provider, consider:

You can practice tai chi every day, if you want. Unlike other types of exercise, you don’t need to “recover” from tai chi. But pay attention to how you are feeling — you shouldn’t feel any pain. Initially, go slow and spend time learning the moves. Slow and steady is the goal.

Want to learn more about exercising with diabetes? Read “Add Movement to Your Life,”[25] “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals”[26] and “Seven Ways to Have Fun Exercising.”[27]

Endnotes:
  1. physically active: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/nutrition-exercise/exercise/picking-the-right-activity-to-meet-your-fitness-goals/
  2. blood sugars: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/blood-glucose-management/blood-sugar-chart/
  3. blood pressure: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/education/treating-high-blood-pressure/
  4. weight control: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/healthy-living/nutrition-exercise/seven-ways-to-lose-weight/
  5. stress reduction: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/healthy-living/emotional-effects/seven-easy-ways-to-de-stress-and-feel-better-fast/
  6. sign up for our free newsletters: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/newsletter/
  7. Tai chi is a centuries-old practice: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tai-chi-what-you-need-to-know
  8. walking: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/nutrition-exercise/exercise/health-benefits-of-walking/
  9. The concepts of tai chi include: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-benefits-of-tai-chi
  10. many styles and forms of tai chi: https://taichiforhealthinstitute.org/why-tai-chi/
  11. depression: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/dealing-diabetes-depression/
  12. balance and stability: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/nutrition-exercise/exercise/improve-balance-and-stability-in-everyday-life/
  13. risk of falling: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/18-steps-preventing-falls-with-diabetes/
  14. Better sleep: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/general-health-issues/getting-the-sleep-you-need/
  15. Improved cognition: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/nine-tips-keep-memory-diabetes/
  16. Reduced joint pain: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/14-ways-reduce-joint-pain-diabetes/
  17. COPD: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/healthy-living/general-health/diabetes-and-lung-health/
  18. weight loss: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/healthy-living/nutrition-exercise/seven-ways-to-lose-weight/
  19. 2015 study in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4620402/
  20. study, published in May 2021 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine: https://www.acpjournals.org/journal/aim/tip-sheets/2021-june-1
  21. advises the Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/tai-chi/art-20045184#:~:text=Although%20tai%20chi%20is%20generally,provider%20before%20trying%20tai%20chi.
  22. water: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/healthy-living/general-health/water-facts-getting-to-know-h2o/
  23. low blood sugar: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/blood-glucose-management/what-is-hypoglycemia-symptoms-treatments/
  24. fast-acting carb: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/education/best-ways-to-treat-low-blood-sugar/
  25. “Add Movement to Your Life,”: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/nutrition-exercise/exercise/add-movement-life/
  26. “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals”: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/nutrition-exercise/exercise/picking-the-right-activity-to-meet-your-fitness-goals/
  27. “Seven Ways to Have Fun Exercising.”: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/nutrition-exercise/exercise/seven-ways-have-fun-exercising/

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