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The Benefits of Tai Chi at Any Age

A proven asset in adjunct cancer care

By Sonja Fung, ND

Tai Chi Chuan has been practiced by millions of people across the globe for centuries. Tai chi, at its most basic, is a set of movements based on martial arts and traditional Chinese medicine, which are memorized and practiced slowly and with intention. This “meditation in motion” deliberately focuses both your mind and body on movement that has many beneficial health effects with a low risk of injury. 

There are five major styles of tai chi named after the founding Chinese families. Yang tai chi is the most popular style, with ease of movement and flow. The forms can be as short as eight sequences, and up to 108 consisting of movements poetically named “part the horse’s mane” and “white crane spreads its wings.” Movements are slow and controlled, with the focus on breathing and the flow of energy through the body. There are no quick and jarring movements in this style, although there are in other martial arts styles. There is no underlying mysticism or belief system associated with the practice of tai chi as an exercise. Use it as another option for your daily movement and stress relief. 

Movement or exercise before, during, and after a cancer diagnosis has been shown to greatly reduce the risk of recurrence and improve quality of life. Maintaining a healthy weight is also a major factor in reducing overall cancer risk. One recent randomized control study showed a greater reduction of the weight and waistlines of adults over 50 after 12 weeks of twice-weekly tai chi compared to traditional aerobic exercise and strength training, even though both groups lost weight overall. 

In cancer patients, tai chi has shown benefits of improved quality of life and reduced treatment side effects such as fatigue, “chemo brain,” insomnia, stress/anxiety and pain. Other health benefits include improved strength, balance, flexibility, bone health with post-hormone therapy in breast cancer patients, improved breathing and lung capacity for patients with COPD, reduced fibromyalgia pain, improved focus and cardiovascular health. 

Tai chi is an extremely safe and effective form of movement with little-to-no downsides. This gentle, low-impact activity applies to all ages and fitness levels and is a physical activity that can be continued and refined throughout your lifetime. There are even options for seated tai chi variations. You should not feel pain at any time during these activities. If you do, stop and modify your form. If you are doing the forms correctly, you will still benefit from the tai chi movements even if you feel like you’re not “breaking a sweat.” 

As always, check with your doctor if there is any question of physical limitations before you begin. For those who are new to the practice, make sure you start with a qualified instructor, whether online or in person. Below are some local and online resources where you can start your journey: 

  • Tai Chi Circle of the Desert: www.taichicircleofthedesert.com
  • Sunnylands: Tai Chi on the Great Lawn offered in the past and may return in Fall 
  • Center for Spiritual Living: www.cslpalmdesert.org/other-classes
  • Online classes: https://www.byrdie.com/best-online-tai-chi-classes-5095654 

Dr. Sonja Fung is a primary care naturopathic doctor with a focus on integrative cancer care and PRP regenerative joint injections at Live Well Clinic in La Quinta. For more information, visit www.livewellclinic.org or on Instagram @livewellclinic. 

Sources available upon request.

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