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Why Tai Chi Can Help Just About Anyone: A Cardiologist Explains

Joel Kahn, M.D.
Cardiologist By Joel Kahn, M.D.
Dr. Kahn is the founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity. He is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Michigan School of Medicine and is a professor of medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine.

It was impossible not to enjoy my first Tai Chi practice. Our guide and instructor, Bud, led a hike through glorious red mountains outside St. George, Utah, to a ridge with a breathtaking view. The sky was blue and still. He led us through a series of gentle, flowing movements, and finished by playing mystical sounds on a Native American flute. I felt refreshed and calm at the end as we hiked back.

While many people are aware of yoga's powerful ability to heal 40 medical conditions, most people aren't aware of Tai Chi's incredible powers. New research into this ancient field has demonstrated the healing potential of this mind-body exercise and shows that it offers an exciting path for therapy.

If you've walked by a park or community center where people were moving slowly and gracefully, chances are you were watching a Tai Chi class. This healing art originated in China over 2,000 years ago and uses continuous, circular, slow, flowing movements combined with breath.

Tai Chi originated from the martial arts while a closely related practice, Qi Gong, began as a healing tool. Today both are thought to improve mind-body coordination, breath and movement control, coordination, balance, and to reduce stress. I will refer to them together as Tai Chi for the purposes of this article.

Here are some of the scientifically proven benefits of Tai Chi:

1. Tai Chi is good for your heart.

Patients with heart disease are encouraged to practice moderate exercise and Tai Chi is an activity that not only fits the bill, but actually helps people get more fit. A recent review found that patients who had been taught Tai Chi had a lower blood pressure, lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels, and improved fitness and exercise capacity compared to patients who didn't learn Tai Chi.

Tai Chi has also been incorporated into programs that help people recover from heart attacks and cardiac surgery. There is strong evidence that Tai Chi improves artery health by increasing antioxidant enzyme action and lowering oxidative stress. One recent study found that it was even more beneficial than a walking program.

2. Tai Chi can help people dealing with cancer.

Mind-body practices are increasingly recommended to patients battling cancer. In a recent analysis of people who practiced Tai Chi, researchers noted improvements in quality of life, fatigue, immune function and stress.

3. Tai Chi can help if you're dealing with lung disease.

Lung diseases like emphysema and bronchitis are common and very disabling. Recently, 40 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were taught Tai Chi and compared to a group that didn't practice Tai Chi. After six months, lung function and diaphragm strength were improved along with exercise ability, for Tai Chi group.

4. Tai Chi is good for your joint health, especially if you're dealing with fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis.

Due to its gentle movements, Tai Chi is a good choice for patients with arthritis conditions. In recent studies of people with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, Tai Chi was shown to help lower anxiety, reduce pain, and increase quality of life.

5. Tai Chi can help with Parkinson’s Disease.

Recent studies show that patients with Parkinson's disease showed greater endurance and improved balance along with a lower risk of falling after taking Tai Chi classes for six months.

6. Tai Chi is good for oral health.

Tai Chi has been studied in periodontal disease and has been shown to increase antioxidant activity in saliva and help heal periodontal disease.

To Learn More

I thank Bud for the magic of the red mountains, blue sky and soft movements and flute tones that made me a fan of Tai Chi for life. If you're interested, you don’t have to wait for that special moment as there are many online resources.

As Professor Cheng Man Ch’ing said, “the most important reason to study Tai Chi is that when you finally reach the place where you understand what life is about, you will have some health to enjoy it.”

Start making circles of movement now.

Joel Kahn, M.D.
Joel Kahn, M.D.
Dr. Joel Kahn is the founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity. He is a summa cum laude...
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Joel Kahn, M.D.
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