What is tai chi and how might it help a person
While Tai Chi was initially developed from
the martial arts over 400 years ago in China,
it is now used world wide primarily to improve
health. It is a slow-moving meditative exercise
that improves the physical body while focusing
the mind and calming the spirit. Traditional
forms of tai chi and styles of teaching have
been modified to make tai chi more accessible
to the general population while keeping it safe.
Forms have been designed by Australian family
physician Dr. Paul Lam and his team of medical
experts to specifically address the needs of
people with chronic health conditions including
people with cancer. These modifications keep
people in their comfort zones while gradually
building up aerobic capacity, balance, flexibility,
and muscle strength so that people can gradually
increase their abilities while always staying
safely in their comfort zones. This is especially
important in people whose physical health has
deteriorated as a result of cancer and its treatment.
The stress reduction aspect is also useful in
people diagnosed with cancer.
Tai chi has been found to be useful in a variety
- Studies have shown that people who do tai
chi as a part of cardiac rehabilitation are
more likely to continue the exercise over
the next year when compared with people who
are given home-based exercise. As a result
of practicing tai chi regularly, these people
have been shown to have better cardiovascular
fitness after one year than did the people
who were following a home-based exercise program.
- People with congestive heart failure who
practice tai chi along with their conventional
medical treatment have been found to have
improved quality of life, longer walking distance
in 6 minutes, and improved physiologic status
as a result of the tai chi.
- It has also been shown that people over
70 years of age who do regular tai chi maintained
their level of cardiovascular fitness over
the next two years whereas the control group
experienced a decline in cardiac function.
- A study by Dr. Lee et al in the Journal
of Rheumatology (9/2003) demonstrated a 29-35%
improvement in arthritic symptoms, balance,
and physical functioning in older women with
osteoarthritis. After 12 weeks of participating
in the Tai Chi for Arthritis program, these
women reported 35% less pain, 29% less stiffness,
and 29% increased ability to perform daily
- A study at Emory University in adults over
70 years of age found that just twelve weeks
of tai chi resulted in 47.5% fewer multiple
falls over the next two years than in controls
who did not learn tai chi.
- In multiple studies throughout the world,
tai chi has been found to improve the quality
of people’s lives by improving their
sense of well-being, their posture, balance,
strength, aerobic capacity, and flexibility.
What kinds of tai chi classes are appropriate
for people with cancer?
Not all tai chi forms and classes are the same.
If you have physical problems stemming from
cancer and its treatment, you will need a class
that has adaptations to allow students to stay
in their comfort zones. Dr. Lam has a website,
which lists certified Tai Chi for Health instructors.
These instructors have been specifically trained
to teach the modified Tai Chi for Health forms
and to make adaptations as needed for specific
physical conditions. If you don’t have
a certified instructor in your area, there are
other ways to find safe classes. If the instructor
is not certified in Dr. Lam’s Tai Chi
for Health programs, it is helpful if they are
a health care provider such as a physical therapist,
nurse, or doctor as they will tend to be more
observant of students in the class and more
knowledgeable about how to teach the classes
safely. Classes held in senior centers or health
care settings also tend to be more mindful of
students’ physical limitations. You might
also ask other people with cancer what classes
they have found helpful.
What if you have more questions?
Please feel free to browse my website for more
information. You may also contact
me if you have other questions.
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