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With several government and charity initiatives now up and running, tai chi is becoming more popular among over 50s - and for good reason. Here's a quick overview of this ancient Chinese martial art. If it sounds like something you'd like to try, we've included some tips and locations to help you find a local class.
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Tai chi - actually called tai chi chuan - is a non-combative martial art. This ancient Chinese practice involves meditative deep breathing and relaxation excercises combined with slow, controlled, flowing movements that work your muscles and joints in a low-impact way.
Praised for its numerous mental and physical health benefits, tai chi is not only a great form of regular exercise, but, according to health sources, will make you happier, healthier and fitter all round.
"I have been learning tai chi for the past six years, and can only say that I have found it to be a most wonderful form of relaxation and exercise, and has greatly improved my quality of life."
Starting any new exercise or class can be daunting at first, so the best way to ease yourself into it is by finding a beginner's class. A taster session might be a great way to start so that:
1) you can see if you like it
2) you don't spend loads of dosh on a beginner's course which you might not want to commit to.
While it's smart to start at the right level, often one of the most important aspects is finding the right instructor - usually a case of trial and error.
"It lifts my mind from the problems of the day because, while I'm thinking about each part of my body and how it is moving, I find it impossible to worry about anything else. It's a complete mental break."
"I have joined a group of mostly ladies, all of whom are a delight to be with. Our teacher endeavours to teach us the correct moves, but understands we are not perfect and, as long as we try to get the moves right, she is happy. We also take part in social events and we do a sponsored walk for charity once a year."
"Tai chi is gentle and makes sure I'm out of bed, out of the house and slowly moving once a week."
"I love it - so relaxing - and it gets rid of all my tension without being too physical. I recommend going to classes so you can learn along with others."
"I usually wear comfortable clothing, such as a loose t-shirt or vest and some leggings. It's usually done bare foot, so don't worry too much about shoes, but, if you're required to wear them, I'd say some comfortable trainers. I try and wear 'subdued', relaxing colours to reflect the peace of the class."
"Having experienced tai chi, I can really see how beneficial this gentle and effective exercise is, as well as an excellent way of learning to relax. Learning the sequences is very good exercise for the brain as well."
Studies from Harvard Health, among others, have shown that tai chi can have a positive impact on your body and your mind - a win-win situation we say! Beginners often find that tai chi movements benefit memory over time, encourage cognitive improvements and feelings of wellbeing, and help with muscle strength, agility and circulation. While nutrition is important for staying healthy and happy, light physical exercise is also key.
Often described as a lifestyle with many aspects taking years to learn, it is an investment that will keep on rewarding you. The main benefits include:
"Tai Chi has worked wonders for my memory."
"I've been going to tai chi classes for a year now, twice a week for the past nine months. Not only is it physically beneficial, but it's wonderfully calming and uplifting - mind, body and spirit."
"I am really enjoying the classes. The concentration needed really helps to calm my mind and the group is very friendly and welcoming."
"Since starting tai chi, my arthritic knees have been considerably less painful and carpal tunnel in both hands and wrists is much better. Maybe the biggest benefit is the feeling of wellbeing though. It's difficult to describe, but after a class I just feel 'good' inside. I'd recommend it to anyone."
"I think it is so valuable. It keeps me mobile and has helped to improve my osteoporosis."
"Most of the women in my tai chi group have arthritis and say that it really helps them to stay mobile. You do need an understanding teacher. Ours always advises only doing what is comfortable for you, especially the rise and fall movements. She also allows sitting down if someone needs to. They tell me that it is the relaxation element and the movement that helps."
"Tai chi definitely improves my posture, balance, coordination and strength."
"My mobility has improved and so has my balance. It also apparently reduces the risk of falls. I would recommend tai chi to anyone."
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"Qi Gong is wonderful for all ages, and so much easier to adapt to any weakness. I'd highly recommend."
Is there a difference, and which one should you go for? There are different styles of tai chi and its parent, Qi Gong, is a healing art as opposed to a martial art. They both work from the same principles (energy, circulation, relaxation) and are often studied together, but tai chi focuses more on physical movement than its predecessor.
Classes often combine both forms so it's a good idea to check with the instructor to see which kind they teach. The movements in Qi Gong tend to be simpler and not as intricate as those in tai chi.
"Tai Chi teaching is based on learning a 'form' or a series of exercises, which can be taxing for my memory. Qi Gong is based more on individual exercises or much shorter 'forms' or series. So you could ask at your local centre if they have Qi Gong classes - just as good and perhaps even better than regular Tai Chi."
"Our lessons were split with Qi Gong being one part and that was really great."
"I'm off today to visit my local class and get all the information with a view to joining as soon as possible."
So, you've decided that Tai Chi is for you, but the question on many lips is "how do I find classes near me?" Local councils and charities often run classes specifically aimed at those over 50. Local Age UK websites also have information about classes and related activites and it is not uncommon for private instructors to offer similar options. To find an accredited instructor and for more information, visit Tai Chi Union for Great Britain.
"It may be worth checking out your local Age Concern centres, many of them run a range of wellbeing classes aimed at the over 50s. That's where I go for tai chi and it's tailored for that age group, with no expectation of precision or perfection. I love it."
"I signed up to tai chi near me yesterday. It is fantastic and so gentle - well worth it. The class I went to is run by an Age Concern group with people there from the age of 55 to 70."
"I started tai chi last September through U3A and am finding it really enjoyable. The class involves individual exercises and sequences so you don't always have to remember what movement comes next! I've found myself much more relaxed and less stressed since starting, and the quietness of the class is in sharp contrast to exercise classes at the gym."
"We started the classes last year and I have to admit my balance has improved. In our community centre we have managed to keep the cost to £3 per class."
"My local authority provides free classes for over 50s as part of a Falls Prevention Campaign. We have new people joining the class quite frequently and are so lucky to have a calm, friendly instructor who makes everyone feel welcome and encourages us without criticism. When I joined I was feeling very low, had poor balance and was in physical pain. Three years later I am so glad I plucked up courage to walk through the door. I feel much better and happier even on days when I'm still in pain."
"Our cash-strapped city council still manages to provide free over 50s' tai chi. There are several well-attended classes around the city and we much appreciate them."
** specifically for people with Parkinson's Disease
If you are considering trying out tai chi, please do discuss any medical concerns with your GP beforehand. For more information, please take a look at NHS advice on tai chi and the NHS Falls Prevention guide.
Disclaimer: The information on our diet and fitness pages is only intended as an informal guide and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice. Gransnet would urge you to consult your GP before you begin any diet if you're concerned about your weight, have existing health conditions and/or are taking medication.