How It Works
The routines were not designed to burn calories or raise your heart rate. Instead, both tai chi and qi gong are martial arts that can help your circulation, balance, and alignment. They can also help restore your energy, called chi or qi (pronounced "chee").
The low-impact moving meditations include standing and balancing. Although qi gong and tai chi are excellent fitness activities for beginners and people with health conditions, elite athletes also benefit from doing the slow movements, because everyone needs better balance and muscle control.
The postures flow together without pause, making qi gong and tai chi look like slow, graceful dances that keep your body in constant motion. You can take a class or do the exercises outdoors, on your own, or with a group.
Intensity Level: Low
The moving meditation is a very low-impact exercise that puts minimal stress on joints and muscles.
Areas It Targets
Core: Yes. You won't be doing moves like crunches, but you'll be using your core muscles as you flow from move to move.
Arms: Yes. Your arms are part of the movements in these gentle martial arts.
Legs: Yes. You do the movements standing up, so tai chi and qi gong do use your leg muscles, but not in an intense way.
Glutes: Yes. The exercises don’t include positions that specifically target the glutes, but those muscles will be working as you move.
Back: Yes. Tai chi and qi gong use your whole body, including the muscles in your back.
Flexibility: Yes. The movements help improve flexibility.
Aerobic: No. These are moving meditations, not cardio workouts.
Strength: Yes. When you do qi gong and tai chi, you're building strength in a subtle way. Your body weight is all you need. It's not about powering through muscular poses, but about engaging your whole body.
Sport: No. It is not a sport.
Low-Impact: Yes. The gentle movements put minimal stress on the muscles and joints.
What Else You Should Know
Cost: Yes. The costs are minimal. To learn the movements, it’s best to sign up for a class or follow a DVD.
Good for Beginners: Both qi gong and tai chi are excellent practices for beginners.
Outdoors: Yes. Classes can be held indoors or outdoors.
At Home: Yes. The moving meditations can be done at home.
Equipment: None is required.
What Melinda Ratini, MD, Says:
Qi gong and tai chi are relaxing ways to improve your flexibility and balance. Both are great ways to stay active and vital.
The gentle, flowing movements are easy on the joints. But check with your doctor first if you have any conditions such as diabetes or circulation problems, or if you take any medications that can make you dizzy when you change positions.
Most people will also need to do some aerobic exercise, like walking, as well as additional strength building. Check with your doctor to see what type of well-rounded program is right for you.
These aren't heart-pumping workouts. But even seasoned athletes have much to gain from a meditative, deliberate approach to movement.
Is It Good for Me if I Have a Health Condition?
One of the best features of tai chi and qi gong is that they can be adapted to fit just about any fitness level. The gentle flowing low-impact movements are easy on your joints if you have arthritis. You can even do them seated or in a wheelchair if needed.
But if you have medical issues or an injury or have recently had surgery, check with your doctor before increasing your activity.
When you are pregnant, you can gain many benefits from meditative movements like tai chi and qi gong. They can increase your flexibility and improve your balance. Both activities are low-impact, so they are not going to put your joints at risk.
If you have high blood pressure, some studies have shown that tai chi can help lower your blood pressure. Other research points to a drop in cholesterol levels as well. That helps lower your chances of heart disease. It may even increase your fitness level.
Check with your doctor first if you have heart disease or if you take blood pressure medicine. Some blood pressure medicines can make you feel dizzy when you bend over or do certain other moves.
Tai chi and qi gong can also be great ways to gently get you back into moving around if you have diabetes and have been inactive. Depending on your fitness level, your doctor will likely also suggest some cardio and more moderate activity to help manage your diabetes.