Exercise is pretty much essential if you’re looking to lose weight. In previous issues we’ve discussed the weight-loss benefits of interval training, weightlifting and walking or running outdoors, among other activities.
But exercise gets more complicated as you get older, especially for senior adults who are overweight. The high-impact nature of interval training and other forms of cardiovascular activity can be rough on bones and joints. And workouts like yoga can present more of a challenge since aging comes with reduced flexibility.
One low-impact form of exercise that has often been recommended for older adults is tai chi. This practice helps improve balance, strengthen bone density and enhance lower-body strength and stability. And like yoga, it can help calm the mind and balance your mood, which is why it’s often described as “meditation in motion.”
Because tai chi is seen as less intense than higher-impact forms of exercise, it’s usually not mentioned specifically as a weight-loss tool. But recent findings may change that…
Tai chi can help shrink your waistline
A study by researchers at the University of Hong Kong discovered tai chi is about as effective as conventional exercise for reducing belly fat in middle-aged and older adults with central obesity. This type of obesity, where the weight is carried mainly around the midsection, is often connected with metabolic syndrome.
Many Asian communities practice tai chi, and it is becoming increasingly popular in Western countries, with more than 2 million practitioners in the United States alone. While tai chi is often recommended as a way for older and inactive people to get exercise, little evidence has been available on its specific health benefits.
The study involved more than 500 adults over the age of 50 with central obesity. Each participant was randomly assigned to a regimen of tai chi, conventional exercise or no exercise for a period of three months. Researchers measured waist circumference and other metabolic health indicators at baseline, 12 weeks, and 38 weeks.
The tai chi and conventional exercise groups participated in hour-long instructor-led workouts three times a week for the 12-week period. The tai chi program followed the common Yang style of tai chi, while the exercise program combined brisk walking with strength training activities.
Results showed both the tai chi and conventional exercise groups experienced a reduction in waist size, which had a favorable impact on their levels of HDL, or “good”, cholesterol. The smaller waist circumference didn’t make any measurable difference on their blood pressure or fasting glucose levels.
The researchers say these findings emphasize the benefits of tai chi for those middle-aged and older adults who have central obesity but may be avoiding conventional exercise because of limited mobility.
Doing tai chi on your own
If you want to add tai chi to your exercise regimen, there are a few ways to go about it. Some regular gyms offer tai chi classes, and there are also centers specifically dedicated to tai chi that provide instruction in its many different types. These instructors can help you find a form of tai chi that best suits you.
If you can’t find a tai chi class near you — or if you prefer to continue keeping your distance from group classes for now because of the pandemic — you can try tai chi on your own at home. There are plenty of videos on YouTube demonstrating tai chi exercises for beginners. We linked to one such video in this earlier article on tai chi, and there are many more to be discovered once you’ve mastered that particular routine.
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