A guide to tai chi

All you need to know about tai chi, including the health benefits, different styles and getting started.

What is tai chi?

Tai chi, also called tai chi chuan, combines deep breathing and relaxation with slow and gentle movements. Originally developed as a martial art in 13th-century China, tai chi is today practised around the world as a health-promoting exercise.

What are the health benefits of tai chi?

While there's scope for more rigorous research on tai chi's health benefits, studies have shown that tai chi can help people aged 65 and over to reduce stress, improve balance and general mobility, and increase muscle strength in the legs.

Can tai chi help to prevent falls?

Some research suggests that tai chi can reduce the risk of falls among older adults who are at increased risk. However, more research is needed.

Can tai chi help with arthritis?

There is some evidence that tai chi can improve mobility in the ankle, hip and knee in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RH). However, it is still not known if tai chi can reduce pain in people with RH or improve their quality of life.

Is tai chi good for treating osteoporosis?

Studies have looked into the potential benefits of tai chi for people with osteoporosis, but there is currently no convincing evidence that tai chi can prevent or treat the condition.

Am I too old for tai chi?

No, tai chi is commonly performed as a low-impact exercise, which means it won’t put much pressure on your bones and joints. Most people should be able to do it.

Is tai chi suitable for me?

Get advice from your GP before starting tai chi if you have any health concerns or an existing health condition. You may need to take certain precautions if you’re pregnant, have a hernia, back pain or severe osteoporosis.

Don't I need to be fit to do tai chi?

No, tai chi is for everyone. It is ideal for inactive older people wanting to raise their activity levels gently and gradually. Also, many of the tai chi movements can be adapted to people with a disability, including wheelchair users.

Can I injure myself doing tai chi?

Tai chi is essentially a gentle activity that is unlikely to cause injury if done correctly. The exercises involve lots of flowing, easy movements that don’t stress the joints or muscles.

Tips on getting started

It’s a good idea to watch a class or attend a free taster session before signing up for a course. If you have a medical condition, any health concerns or haven’t exercised for a long time, speak to your GP before you start tai chi.

Are there different styles of tai chi?

Yes, such as yang, chen and wu. Some teachers often practise a combination of styles. The main differences between the different tai chi styles are in the speed of movement and the way the body holds the postures.

What’s the basic technique?

Tai chi is characterised by its slow, graceful, continuous movements that are gentle on the joints and muscles. Done correctly, you'll find that the tai chi poses flow smoothly from one into another. Many movements are completed with bent knees in a squat-like position.  

Can I learn tai chi from a book or DVD?

It’s a good idea to learn the basics of tai chi from an instructor to make sure your style is correct, effective and won't cause injury. You can consider using a book or DVD once you’re familiar with the poses. Find a tai chi instructor in your area.

Page last reviewed: 05/08/2015

Next review due: 05/08/2017

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