T’ai Chi Ch’uan To Promote Good Health
Copyright Harvey Kurland 1999

T’ai-chi ch’uan (taijiquan) has been shown to lower high blood pressure, prevent falls, reduce the negative effects of stress and it may even make you smarter. Some of my students commented it helped to improve their golf and tennis games. The latest research on aging shows that stress adversely effects the brain as we age. Stress hormones actually cause part of the brain to shrink which results in memory loss. To reverse this you have to reduce stress. Researchers have also found that learning a novel activity and performing a physical exercise helps to improve brain functioning. T’ai chi ch’uan, which is an ancient form of Chinese Internal Kung-fu, helps to reduce stress and may even make you smarter.

Recent issues of The Cornell University’s Food & Fitness Advisor (11/98, p 3), The UC Berkeley Wellness Letter (11/98, p 6) and The Saturday Evening Post (8/98) confirmed t’ai-chi ch’uan’s health benefits. The Food & Fitness Advisor claims t’ai-chi will help prevent osteoporosis, prevent falls, and help people with arthritis. They quote research that shows it can reduce high blood pressure and is "As effective as meditation and brisk walking... in reducing levels of stress hormones."

The UC Berkeley Wellness Letter said, "Though tai chi movements are slow they can provide a fairly intense workout." The Letter claims "Tai chi can be a form of physical therapy and aid in the recovery from injuries", and "instill physical confidence and may enhance balance and coordination." It tones the muscles of the lower body and because the posture is emphasized, strain on the neck and back is relieved. They claim that, "Tai chi can have some of the same psychological benefit as Yoga", helping students relax, improve flexibility, relieving muscle tension and anxiety. They suggest to supplement the t’ai-chi with other aerobic exercise. For younger people it can help to prevent osteoporosis from occurring later in life, as well as to manage stress and help them become more "Centered" and serene.

To do t’ai-chi ch’uan correctly you must learn it correctly, and the class must have the focus of teaching you to be able to practice it on your own, rather than the outdated and lazy "follow the leader" approach used by some schools. A step by step learning method, such as taught by a certified NWTCCA classes works best. The regular daily practice of tai chi helps to maintain basic fitness and improve your health.

Recent research shows that disability and loss of fitness comes in big jumps, it is not a gradual process. To prevent loss of physical fitness it is important to have a regular exercise program. T’ai chi ch’uan is such a convenient routine. You learn a routine that can take 5 minutes to an hour and once you learn it, all you need to do is go through it regularly to help maintain a level of general fitness. Whenever you are injured or are sick, there is a loss of function and your fitness, flexibility, strength, balance may be reduced subtly. If you do not do regular exercise you may not even be aware of the loss, until one day you can’t get out of bed without help. If you do not work to restore your previous level of functioning or if there is a serious problem that keeps you from doing so, you will end up with a lower level of fitness and functioning. That is why it is important to get back to your previous level of fitness, or even exceed it, after an illness. Deterioration is a slow progressive process but barring any major medical problems, it can be reversed. T’ai-chi ch’uan can act as basic physical therapy to maintain your level of fitness and can be supplemented with specific prescribed therapy exercises. You should check with your Doctor before starting any exercise program.