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Health Effects of Tai Chi
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 2:58 pm
Brief History
  Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese exercise and a form of moving meditation.  Although Tai Chi’s moves were founded in martial arts it was also devised for maintaining health and helping to treat disease. Many forms of Tai Chi exist today, and more than 100 million people worldwide practice it. 
  Perhaps the most popular is the Yang form, devised by Yang Lo-sim or Yang Lu-chan  (1799-1872).  His sons, Yang Chien-hou, and Yang Sou-hou, taught their father’s martial form.  However, Sou-hou’s son, Yang Cheng-fu, saw a need for all people regardless of age and health to be able to gain the great health benefits that Tai Chi Chuan had to offer so he set about changing what he was originally taught by his father, so that all of the original leaping and fa-jing (explosive energy) moves were left out. When he had finished, he had invented what we now know as Yang Tai Chi Chuan, the slow moving form that most people practice. This form was easier to learn and so became more popular than the old Yang Sou-hou form. 
  Cheng-fu changed the old form only enough so that the essential healing essence of Tai Chi Chuan would be preserved.  In one of Yang Cheng-fu’s books, written by Chen Wei-ming, he actually states that to change this form any further would bring disaster!  
  Others came along after Yang Cheng-fu and changed the form further leaving out all of the repeated and important movements.  The most famous of these was Cheng Man Ching’s short form.  He was one of the first people to introduce Tai Chi into the USA. However, other people invented or taught various short Tai Chi forms.  However, unlike Cheng Man Ching, they didn’t try to preserve or didn’t know the principles of Tai Chi. What is left is many commercialized, modern dance forms – only shells of the original forms with almost no healing or martial benefits! These so-called ’short forms’ are even more popular than the Yang Chen-fu form.
Medical Effects According to Traditional Chinese Medicine
  Yang Lu-chan was a genius.  He saw a need for a martial system that not only contained the most deadly self-defense applications but also self-defense against disease and depletion of Qi and a Qi system that was out of balance. Therefore, he built into the whole form a way of activating the Qi flow through each acupuncture meridian, the way that it is activated naturally, by biorhythms, in a 24-hour period. During the performance of the old Yang form every organ in the body receives the proper Qi flow 3 times. Consequently, each posture affects certain organs.  The postures can be taken out of the form and used to diagnose and treat diseases.  The deadly strikes to the acupuncture points hidden in the form can be done gently to treat diseases.
  Nearly everyone who learns a long Yang form rarely practices a short version again.  Perhaps this a message from the body about the health benefits of the long form.  
Health Benefits According To Western Medicine
  The forms that have been studied are like the Cheng Man Ching short Yang form.  They combine slow, controlled movement with regular, calm breathing. Anyone who can walk, regardless of age, can learn and do these slow forms. You don’t need special clothing or to practice in a particular place.
  Slow Yang style Tai Chi is gentle, fun and easy to do. There are no jumps or aerobic-dance movements. Tai Chi movements consist of using the legs to shift and balance weight while raising and lowering the arms in various movements. The forms consist of a series of choreographed steps always done the same way. A series can be quite complex and take years to learn correctly.
  Tai Chi explores the principles of balance, which includes posture and joint work at the ankle, knee and hip. This leads to a better sense of body awareness, balance, and motor control.  This improves the ability to stand and walk - important as we age and lose some of our physical skills.  Elder people who practice Tai chi have been shown to fall less and so are less susceptible to hip fractures, a major problem for seniors. 
  One goal of Tai Chi is to create a calm mind focused on the execution of the exercises, which is a great method of stress reduction. 
  One of the most unusual results of slow-moving Tai Chi is its aerobic benefit.  Numerous studies, since 1975, show that 20 minutes of Tai Chi gives participants 80 percent of the same cardiovascular benefit as aerobics.
  A 2001 study reported in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that Tai Chi could increase immunity, reduce stress, alleviate gastric problems, hypertension and other ailments.
  These gentle movements, coupled with concentration and inner awareness are, according to Chinese medicine, one of the keys to natural health and immunity to degenerative diseases.  In traditional Chinese medicine health is a result of well-balanced Chi (internal energy).  The movements help balance your Chi. In fact, each movement influences certain internal organs and improves their function. 
  Besides helping us as we age, Tai Chi can help people recover from illness. In 1999, the British Medical Association’s Postgraduate Medical Journal found that it could help heart attack victims recover faster. The deliberate movements and controlled breathing lowered blood pressure and slowed some people’s heart rates. Some of the heart attack victims participated in aerobic exercises and others performed Tai Chi. Both forms of exercise reduced blood pressure, but only Tai Chi showed a significant reduction, according to the study.
Tai Chi for Arthritis - proven to be effective and safe
  A recent study by Korean national university was presented at the America College of Rheumatology (ACR) annual scientific meeting (the biggest scientific meeting in this field with 8,000 rheumatology professionals attending each year) in November 2001. This study compare the “Tai Chi for Arthritis” program with a control group and came out with very positive results:
  “Abstract Preview: 80146 from ACR
Eun-Ok Lee, Rhayun Song, Sang-Cheol Bae Seoul and ChonAn, Republic of Korea
  The Sun style Tai Chi exercise had been modified specifically for arthritis patients in order to reduce their symptoms and to improve physical fitness and functioning. This randomized study examined the changes in pain, balance, muscle strength and physical functioning in older osteoarthritis patients at the completion of 12 week Tai Chi exercise. The patients with osteoarthritis who signed the consent form were randomly assigned into two groups. 17 experimental subjects and 14 comparisons completed pretest and posttest measures at 12-week interval with 28% of dropout rate. Outcome measures were physical fitness and muscle strength, and physical functioning. Data were entered and analyzed by SPSSWIN 10.0 program. Independence t-test was utilized to examine group differences. The homogeneity test confirmed that there was no significant group difference in demographic data and pretest measures. The subjects were 64 years of age and have been diagnosed for 9.4 years in average. Most of them were still married (72%), and doing none (59%) or very seldom exercise (23%) previously. 30.2% of the subjects quit the job due to their illness. At the completion of 12 week Tai Chi exercise, the experimental group reported significantly less pain and fewer difficulties in activities of daily living. The Tai Chi exercise group showed significant improvement in physical functioning while the comparison group reported no change or even worse physical functioning after 12 weeks. In physical fitness test, there were significant improvements in abdominal muscle strength and balance for the Tai Chi group than the comparison group. No significant differences were found in flexibility, upper muscle or knee muscle strength. In conclusion, Sun style Tai Chi exercise was safely applied to the older Osteoarthritis patients for 12 weeks, and the effects on symptoms, balance, and physical functioning were supported by the results.
American Chiropractic Association Recommends Tai Chi for Osteoporosis
  ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) recently recommended Tai Chi as a beneficial strength training exercise system for those suffering from osteoporosis. The ACA said that even those with severe osteoporosis who have suffered fractures would benefit from Tai Chi exercise.
  “Osteoporosis is a chronic, progressive condition that steals bone from the body, leading to fractures of the hip, spine and wrist,’ said ACA national spokesperson, Dr. Jerome McAndrews. Older people can suffer disability and even death from osteoporosis- related fractures.” The ACA says that an estimated 20-millionAmerican women suffer from osteoporosis, and 80 % of them don’t even know it. According to the association, one in two women and one in eight men will suffer from an osteoporosis related fracture in his or her lifetime.
Tai Chi Study Very Positive For Elderly Practitioners
TAIWAN - Exercise physiologists in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at National Taiwan University Hospital and Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Taipei studied the effects of a yang-style Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) program on the fitness of older individuals.
  Previous studies have shown that Tai Chi can improve balance and coordination and decrease the frequency of falls in the elderly. This latest study, however, is among the first to demonstrate a significant increase in measured aerobic capacity in this population. Tai Chi, with its gentle and graded intensity, may be an ideal form of exercise for older persons.  These results were published in the Medicine & Science in Sports& Exercise Journal as “12-Month Training in, the Elderly. Its Effect on Health Fitness’ and are summarized below.
The study was completed by 38 community-dwelling people ages 58 to 70. The Tai Chi group consisted of nine men and 11 women; the control group included nine men and nine women. The exercise group practiced Tai Chi three to five times a week for approximately a year. Each session included a 20-minute warm-up, 24 minutes of Tai Chi practice and a 10-minute cool-down. Each Tai Chi set included 108 postures.
  The exercise intensity was 52 to 63% of heart rate maximum. Cardiorespiratory function (VO2 max), thoracic/lumbar flexibility, knee extensor and knee flexor strength, and percent body fat (%BF) were evaluated at the start and end of the study. 
  Among the men in the Tai Chi group, V02 max increased by 16.1% (p < .01). Among the women in the Tai Chi group, V02 max increased by 21.3% (p < .01).   Changes in body fat percentages were not significant for either men or women in the Tai Chi group. Members of the control group showed no significant changes in any of the variables measured. The researchers concluded that a 12-month Tai Chi program provides fitness benefits for the elderly.
  The report suggested that interested participants should learn directly from knowledgeable and credentialed Tai Chi instructors, rather than using only video or text instruction.
  The following article might be a partial western explanation why Tai Chi helps heart failure.
 Leg Exercises May Help Heart Failure Breathlessness
  NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Heart failure patients may be able to lessen their breathing problems with exercises that strengthen the leg muscles, preliminary research suggests. 
  The study of 25 men and women with heart failure found that those who trained their leg muscles with supervised, low-intensity exercises saw improvements in breathlessness–a common and physically limiting symptom of heart failure. 
  According to the study authors, their findings indicate the importance of skeletal muscle, as opposed to the heart and lungs, in the breathing symptoms of heart failure.  Dr. Donna M. Mancini and her colleagues at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York report the findings in the November 6th issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 
  Chronic heart failure occurs when the heart can no longer pump blood efficiently enough to meet the body’s needs, usually due to an underlying cardiac condition like coronary artery disease. Shortness of breath, fatigue and swelling around the feet and ankles are among the symptoms. Modest exercise, under a doctor’s supervision, is one of the ways heart failure is managed. 
In this study, Mancini’s team tested the hypothesis that isolated leg exercises–using light weights and resistance bands–can improve breathing problems in heart failure patients. The researchers point out that such exercise may change muscle metabolism in a way that lessens patients’ feelings of breathlessness. 
  They found that after 3 months of regular, supervised training sessions, the 17 patients assigned to the exercise group boosted strength and endurance in their leg muscles. And both their perceived breathlessness and ratings of their quality of life improved.
  According to Mancini and her colleagues, this suggests that therapies aimed at improving muscle function “may improve the quality of life and exercise performance” in heart failure patients. 
SOURCE: Journal of the American College of Cardiology 2002;40:1602- 1608.
  Since Tai Chi is an exercise it can also reduce the risk of heart disease by the effects described in the following article, which appeared January 2003.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Exercise can act like a drug on the blood vessels, reducing the risk of heart disease by literally getting the blood flowing, US researchers said on Thursday. 
  It works in a surprising way, reducing inflammation, which has recently joined high blood pressure and high cholesterol as a leading known cause of heart disease, the researchers said. The blood stresses the walls of blood vessels as it passes over them, reducing inflammation in a way similar to high doses of steroids, the researchers report in Friday’s issue of Circulation Research. 
“Inflammation in blood vessels has been linked to atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries, and here we see how the physical force of  blood flow can cause cells to produce their own anti-inflammatory response,” Scott Diamond of the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Medicine and Engineering, said in a statement. “Conceivably, exercise provides the localized benefits of glucocorticoid–just as potent as high doses of steroids, yet without all the systemic side effects of taking the drugs themselves,” added Diamond, who led the study.  ”Perhaps this is a natural way in which exercise helps protect the vessels, by stimulating an anti-inflammatory program when the vessels are exposed to elevated blood flow.” 
  The findings could help explain why exercise works so well to reduce the risk of heart disease, Diamond said. 
“We’re not talking about running a marathon here. We’re just talking about getting the blood moving at high arterial levels,” he said. 
  Studies in recent years have found that cells and chemicals linked with inflammation can be found in arterial clogs, and much research is now focusing on ways to reduce this inflammation. For instance, teams are investigating whether giving patients antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs lowers their risk of heart disease. 
  Diamond has worked using human arteries in the lab but wants to move into animals to confirm his hypothesis. 
  “Think of blood flow as a stream–whenever a stream branches off you get small areas of recirculation eddies or pools of stagnant water,” he said. “These same situations of disturbed flow irritate the endothelium 
(the lining of the blood vessels). When blood vessels branch off, all the arterial flotsam–fats and activated blood cells–can clump and stick at these hot spots for atherosclerotic plaque formation,” he added. “Perhaps, elevated blood flow may alter these disease-prone regions to relieve some of the localized inflammation.” 
  Another study of the effects of Tai Chi on blood pressure and the heart appeared in the March 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.  Tai Chi lowered high blood pressure. It was found that Yang style of Tai Chi significantly reduced high blood pressure in overweight, hypertensive individuals. The subjects in the research group were over 60 years old. They did Tai Chi for 30 to 45 minutes four to five times a week. The researchers found that, “Exercise intensity may be less important than other factors.” Because even though Yang style Tai Chi studied was low intensity, it reduced high blood pressure as well or better than the more strenuous aerobic exercise.
  In another research study, 126 heart attack patients (acute myocardial infarction), average age of 56 years, were randomized into three groups:  a Tai Chi group, an aerobic exercise group and a non-exercise support group. They exercised 2 times a week for 3 weeks and then once a week for 5 weeks. Only the patients practicing Tai Chi showed a decrease in diastolic blood pressure. There were significant reductions in systolic blood pressure in both exercise groups.  This might indicate that Tai Chi has other effects than those due to western exercise.

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