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Why right now is the best time to try Tai Chi for arthritis

Is Tai Chi good for your joints?

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High intensity training may be all the rage, but it’s not an option for most osteoarthritis a sufferers. Exercise physiologist Andrew Cate outlines the benefits to your joints.

What is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi is an ancient form of martial arts where the movements are performed in a slow, fluid, circular and controlled manner.

Sometimes referred to as mediation in slow motion, it has been shown to have a positive impact on both physical and psychological function.

Tai Chi encourages participants to breathe deeply and foster a mind-body connection that may help to relieve stress.

Importantly for osteoarthritis sufferers, the slowing down of movement allows the joints to remain stable while working the muscles with little or no impact. You could say it’s an exercise with “no pain, big gain”.

Tai Chi and osteoarthritis

There is evidence to suggest that Tai Chi can offer a wide range of benefits for osteoarthritis sufferers, including:
  • Improved strength and flexibility
  • Improved balance
  • Improved functional mobility
  • Relief of joint pain
  • Improved quality of life
  • Reduced joint stiffness
A study published in Asian Nursing Research investigated the long term affects of Tai Chi on physical health and quality of life.

Thirty adults with osteoarthritis took part in the study, performing Tai Chi 3 times a week over a 2-year period. Subjects were re-assessed at regular intervals, with quality of life measured by a variety of markers including physical function, pain, vitality and mental health.

What the researchers found was that participants experienced significant improvements in quality of life, specifically in their perception of physical functioning, social functioning and physical role limitations. And while more research into this area needs to be done, the study authors found theses improvements in quality of life to be promising.
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How to practice Tai Chi

Be consistent

Reports have shown that once people stop practising Tai Chi, the positive benefits are lost. In other words, it’s important to be consistent to get the most out it.

Aim to include Tai Chi as part of your fitness and lifestyle routine at least 2 – 3 times a week. Participants in the study above engaged in classes of approximately 50 minutes, including a warm up, sequences of 12 exercises, cool down and stretching.

However, even short sessions of five to 10 minutes at a time will help to build confidence, and progress your skills.

Be patient

Research has found that there are difficulties and obstacles in practicing Tai Chi during the early stages. It takes time to develop the skills to perform Tai Chi effectively, and become familiar with the movement patterns.

It has been suggested that it can take at least 4 months for individuals to achieve a moderate level of Tai Chi skills. But persistence pays off. In the study mentioned above, some of the benefits accumulated and increased into the second year of regular practice.

Just enjoy

When you experience the pain and challenges of osteoarthritis, it can be beneficial to be proactive. Enjoy the sense of achievement that comes from learning new skills and movements. Enjoy being outside, where most Tai Chi classes are held. And enjoy being part of a group environment, working together as your skills and mastery develop.