Arthritis-Friendly Exercise: Tai Chi

January 15, 2015

A healthy lifestyle is essential to aging in place. Especially when arthritis brings on stiffness and pain, it becomes all the more important to take care of your physical wellbeing. Exercise in particular can defend againt joint discomfort and deterioration.

But to reap the rewards of working out, you have to keep at it. And if you’re going to keep at it, you should enjoy it. While walking is probably the most recommended form of exercise for arthritis sufferers, it might not be the right activity for you. Perhaps you bore easily when walking through your neighborhood, or maybe you would rather not go outside if the sidewalks are wet or icy.

Last month, Staying Put at Home began our “Arthritis-Friendly Exercise” series, introducing seniors to activities that can ease joint inflammation. The impact that working out can have on arthritis is considerable, and making it a part of your life could prove instrumental for remaining safe and independent in your home. Today, we take a look at tai chi, a practice that promotes both physical health and mental wellness.

What is tai chi?

Many people associate exercise with speed, sweat and pain. Tai chi takes a different approach. Movement is slow and rhythmic. Breathing is calm and deliberate. Exhaustion is not the goal; rather, tai chi aims toward revitalization. To reach this objective, students engage in a fluid series of motions. When done on a regular basis, this type of activity can improve strength, stamina and balance. National Institutes of Health notes that because tai chi focuses on thoughtful movement, it also offers meditative benefits, which can ease stress and anxiety.

How does tai chi ease arthritis pain?

In a joint, cartilage acts as a buffer that separates bone from bone, and synovial fluid helps to facilitate gliding motion between them. But if cartilage becomes brittle, or if synovial fluid thickens, it can hinder joint movement. Exercise can encourage synovial fluid distribution and cartilage resilience, though, and key to easing your arthritis pain is choosing the right kind of exercise. Sports like tennis and running can be good for overall health, but because of the force you may be putting on your joints, they might acerbate arthritis pain. However, tai chi is considered a low-impact activity, making it an ideal way to foster joint health.

Where can you do tai chi?

Yet another reason why tai chi makes an ideal workout option is because it can be done virtually anywhere. As with many forms of exercise, learning proper tai chi techniques can help to ensure that you get the most out of your practice and minimize your risk of injury. So before trying it on your own, you might want to take a few tai chi classes at your nearest senior center or gym. Starting tai chi with a group can also make it easy to find friends with whom you can later practice outside of class. Even if you choose to continue your tai chi classes, you can do it at home as well. Especially when inclement weather makes it difficult to travel, all you need is a few feet of space to keep up with your exercise routine.

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