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Tai Chi, Anyone?

Jan 19, 2011

Tai chi is a wonderful activity for many people with diabetes. Does anyone practice tai chi? Tell us about your experience.

Tai chi was originally a self-defense strategy/martial art developed in China about 2,000 years ago. Today, it is used as a gentle exercise technique. When doing tai chi, the person stands and performs postures or body movements, slowly and gracefully. The two popular versions involve 18 and 37 movements. Deep breathing is used during the movements with an emphasis on efficiency and relaxation.

There are 5 essential qualities of tai chi:

  • Slowness. To develop awareness.
  • Lightness. To make movements flow.
  • Balance. To prevent body strain.
  • Calmness. To maintain continuity.
  • Clarity. To focus the mind.

Tai chi is now popular in community and senior centers, hospitals and clinics. It has been shown to have great health benefits as a low stress, low impact exercise, including: improved balance with a decreased risk of falls, improved flexibility and improved cardiovascular fitness. It can be practiced by people who have had a stroke or heart attack, or who have heart failure, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. It burns calories to aid in weight management and can reduce stress. For people with knee arthritis, a common problem limiting activity in those with diabetes, it has been shown to reduce pain and improve their sense of well-being. I see many people with diabetes and neuropathy that have balance dysfunction. Tai chi is known for improving balance and coordination and decreasing risk of falls. And, all of this with extremely low pressure in the joints.

I recently saw a patient, like many I see, that has diabetes with neuropathy, is losing balance but hasn’t fallen, is inactive, doesn’t have money for a health club membership, and has knee and back pain limiting walking. He wanted to increase his activity but preferred to do it in his small apartment. Sound like anyone you know? So, tai chi seemed the perfect option. He was going to buy a DVD and get started. He also could have gone to a local senior program.

Tai chi is one of very few activities I feel confident suggesting to almost anyone who can stand on their own; not fearing that they will worsen painful conditions or get discouraged. I think it is an exercise form that we should think of more often when working with people with diabetes, especially if they have movement limitations and/or pain.

I would love to hear if anyone else suggests tai chi. Any other benefits? Where do you suggest people go to do tai chi? Any DVDs you like? Any problems you have seen? And, again, what is your personal experience?

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