Haims: Benefits of tai chi and yoga | VailDaily.com

Haims: Benefits of tai chi and yoga

Judson Haims
Valley Voices

The benefits of tai chi and yoga as we age are incredible. A quick search on the internet will yield plenty of research validating that for those who regularly practice tai chi and yoga, balance and proprioception dramatically benefit. Most importantly, people who practice these exercises become steadier on their feet, less likely to suffer high blood pressure, and become physically stronger.

Additionally, tai chi and yoga are promising alternatives to pharmacological interventions that improve cognition. These types of mind and body exercises may be particularly beneficial to older adults with cognitive concerns as they involve movement recall, task switching, and visuospatial processing simultaneously with physical movements. These exercises improve hand-eye coordination, increase circulation, promote lower blood pressure and assist people in being steadier on their feet.

Tai chi is designed to exercise the major muscle groups of the body in slow, gentle movements. Yoga focuses on breathing and meditation to both improve mental, as well as, physical health. However, the real wonder of both these forms of exercise is that they can easily be adapted to fit the more limited physical abilities of an aging population. With the correct instructor and a supportive group, these two activities can be both fun and beneficial.

Tai chi and yoga can provide very useful results, often, in a very short time frame. In 2006, the University of Illinois performed a controlled study with a group of seniors with an average age of 80. The study showed positive results in approximately six months in balance, energy levels, flexibility and sleep. Numerous additional studies have shown benefits such as reduction in chronic pain, fewer falls, reduced stress, reduced blood pressure and overall improved fitness. Clearly, to get involved in either form of exercise is good for the body and the soul.

We know that exercise and nutritional health go hand-in-hand, yet as we age, the tendency is to move further and further away from exercise. One reason for this is that we see strenuous exercise as only for the young. However, exercises that offer benefits to our bodies need not be strenuous; they simply need to focus on the proper elements of exercise and the positive results will be forthcoming.

“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,” says Peter M. Wayne, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Harvard Medical School has conducted in-depth studies on the health benefits of tai chi. Their research supports tai chi as an adjunct therapy for many diseases and chronic conditions including hypertension, arthritis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and insomnia. If you enjoy reading and are interested in learning more, you may want to purchase the book, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi.

Tai chi and yoga combine aerobic, strength training, stability and flexibility/balance into forms that are adaptable to all age groups — even for seniors in wheelchairs. Both exercises may help with improving balance for seniors which will help with concerns of falling.

While you can do most yoga and tai chi exercises at home with the help of an app, book or DVD, you may be best served by going to a class and learning with a trained instructor. Instructors will assist you in not only learning the correct methods, but they can also assist in correcting your form and provide advice on stretches and poses best suited for you — this will reduce your chance of strain or injury compared to practicing by yourself.

We have many local studios that offer daily classes throughout the day. You may be surprised to see what a difference these exercises can do to better your well-being.

Please remember to always check with your doctor before doing any new exercise routine.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County.  He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns  or 970-328-5526.