Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario on June 06, 2012

Sources

Steven L. Wolf, PhD, PT, FAPTA, Professor, MED: Medicine, Professor, Rehabilitation Medicine, Center for Rehabilitation Medicine, Emory University School of MedicineCate Morrill, President, “Shoulders Down, Inc.” Instructor of Rising Phoenix T’ai Chi Arthur Rosenfeld, Martial Arts Master, Author, Coach

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Video Transcript

Narrator: The graceful movements of Tai Chi may appear effortless, but can take years to perfect. By comparison, health benefits garnered by those who practice this ancient Chinese martial art can occur much sooner.

Steven L. Wolf, PhD, PT, FAPTA: They're learning how to relax. How to coordinate breathing with movement, for example. All of these aspects collectively, I think, lead to a state of well being that may transcend what we do when we exercise in a more traditional manner.

Narrator: Standard forms of exercise are certainly good for you—they can lower blood pressure, release pain-blocking endorphins, and control weight among other benefits. But Tai Chi's focus on posture and body placement may add benefits beyond what cardiovascular or resistance-training can provide.

Cate Morrill: There is a keen awareness and a keen sensitivity to where my body is in place and time. Also, as to what my mind is doing in relationship to what my body is doing.

Narrator: This mind/body connection is one reason Tai Chi is prescribed as an alternative rehab therapy.

Steven L. Wolf, PhD, PT, FAPTA: It has been demonstrated to improve cardiovascular function following heart attack, reduce high blood pressure, increase blood flow to the periphery. There have been measures of cortisol as an index of stress, to show that cortisol levels are reduced after tai chi training.

Arthur Rosenfeld: If stress is all about the way we respond to our world, then teaching our body and our mind to respond to the world differently is the best antidote for the stress response.

Narrator: Tai Chi is rooted in the centuries-old philosophy of Taoism—where balance and energy-flow play key roles. Practitioners believe internal power is derived from a life force called "chi".

Steven L. Wolf, PhD, PT, FAPTA: Well I think folks who practice tai chi believe that there is an energy-flow through our bodies that sometimes is masked—it's blocked, It's obstructed and the release and control of that energy is integral to our well being.

Narrator: Scientists have, so far, been unable to prove or disprove the existence of "chi". But in several small studies over recent years, researchers have been able to show tangible benefits from Tai Chi—most notably in populations where certain degenerative or chronic conditions are common.

Cate Morrill: And they really want a solution to the issue that they're facing—whether it's a visual impairment, fibromyalgia, blood pressure, diabetes

Steven L. Wolf, PhD, PT, FAPTA: The information is overwhelming now that tai chi does improve postural control—delays the onset of falls in older adults

Arthur Rosenfeld: Tai Chi's a lab. It's a lab to explore these things and learn them and fix yourself.

Narrator: For WebMD, I'm Damon Meharg.