Tai chi is an ancient Chinese marital art that combines mind and body therapy into one complete healing practice. Numerous studies attest to tai chi’s ability to alleviate the symptoms of menopause, such as bone loss, anxiety and depression.
Tai chi guides practitioners through a series of low-impact, slow motion movements, many of which are named after animal behaviors. Practitioners perform exercises such as “snake creeps down” and “white crane spreads its wings” while focusing awareness on their breathing and the bodily sensations that arise. Tai chi stands out from other forms of exercise because its gentle, circular movements emphasize and develop relaxed muscles. Joints are never fully extended or bent, and the connective tissues are never fully stretched, making the benefits of tai chi a safe practice for those with chronic health conditions and physical limitations.
Tai chi extends beyond the key components of physical fitness: muscle strength, flexibility, balance and aerobic conditioning. According to Peter M. Wayne, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Tai Chi and Mind-Body Research Program at Harvard Medical School’s Osher Research Center, “A growing body of carefully conducted research is building a compelling case for tai chi as an adjunct to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age.”
One such condition is osteoporosis, a bone disease typified by decreased bone strength. Osteoporosis is a dangerous condition that leaves sufferers at increased risk for falling and fractures. In fact, complications from falling are the 60th leading cause of death in the United States.
As we age, our ability to sense the position of our body in space declines. The benefits of tai chi strengthens both this sense and our muscle strength and flexibility so that we are more likely to catch ourselves when we stumble. A study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that regular practice of tai chi reduces your risk of falling by as much as 50%.
Low bone mineral density (BMD) is a key indicator of osteoporosis. Recent studies indicate benefits of tai chi’s success at slowing the rate of bone loss, and building bone mass and connective tissue. A study published in the journal Physician and Sports Medicine found that participants engaging in 45 minutes of tai chi 5 times a week for 1 year slowed the rate of bone loss 2.6 to 3.6 times more than the control group of postmenopausal women that did not participate in a tai chi practice.
Dr. Wayne recently led a team of Harvard researchers in an analysis of 6 controlled tai chi studies that indicate that tai chi is a beneficial and safe way to strengthen bone density in postmenopausal women.
More benefits of tai chi has also emerged as a successful treatment for anxiety and depression, along with menopausal symptoms such as insomnia and hot flashes. The National Institute of Mental Health reports on the link between depression and bone loss. Studies show that depression exacerbates stress hormones, which lead to rapid bone loss. Women suffering from depression had the bones of women twice their age. A study conducted by La Trobe University in Australia found that tai chi reduces stress hormones more significantly than other forms of exercise.
Many doctors recommend tai chi as a non-drug alternative to dangerous hormone replacement therapies (HRT) that have been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes and blood clots.
A 2011 UCLA study published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry measured benefits of tai chi’s effects on 112 seniors who had been diagnosed with depression for a number of years. When treated with the anti-depressant drug Lexapro, 73 patients showed minor improvement. When these 73 patients participated in a tai chi program, however, 94% showed remarkable improvement and 65% went into remission.
Another benefits of tai chi improves muscle strength and tone, bone density and flexibility, and promotes an overall feeling of wellness. To find a tai chi class near you and begin practicing today, visit the World Tai Chi & Qigong Day directory.
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