Take off years with these mind-body workouts
Photo by: Ron Chapple Stock/iStock
Adding some type of low-impact mind-body exercise—workouts like yoga and tai chi that have a meditative or mind-focusing component—to your weekly workout schedule can help you lower age-accelerating anxiety, stress, and high blood pressure while also raising your ability to battle damage from free radicals. Some crowd-pleasing favorites:
Ballet This graceful, smooth type of dance is a great way to stretch and strengthen underused muscles and improve flexibility and coordination. The mind-body aspect comes from the focus required for the (mostly) low-impact moves. An added benefit is improved posture; the classic positions help align your body to produce a graceful, taller stance. Calories burned per half-hour: 150 to 180
Pilates This workout combines strength, flexibility, balance, and control training with resistance exercises. It’s done individually, in groups, or on three pieces of specially designed Pilates equipment. Movements look like stretches and emphasize breathing along with muscle strengthening. A workout lasts 45 to 90 minutes, and although it’s not aerobic at lower levels, advanced students do get cardiovascular benefits. Pilates is often taught one-on-one, which can be expensive, but many clubs offer more reasonably priced and effective mat classes (the exercises are done without the large specialized equipment). Calories burned per half-hour: 180 to 220
Tai chi This ancient Chinese regimen, rooted in the martial arts, improves strength, flexibility, concentration, and balance by combining mental discipline with physical moves. When done correctly, tai chi can raise the heart rate to 60 percent of maximum, qualifying as moderate exercise. Thighs and hips do much of the work, as in high-impact aerobics—but without the jumping. And it just may keep you young: One study showed that tai chi practitioners slowed their loss of aerobic capacity, a measure of how the heart, lungs, and circulatory system are working. Calories burned per half-hour: 125 to 150
Yoga Rooted in ancient Indian philosophy, yoga improves flexibility, muscle strength, and endurance. It consists of deep-breathing exercises and “postures” or “poses” that are held for several seconds to several minutes. Some forms of yoga also involve muscle toning and aerobic movement. The poses can be adapted to any fitness level – and as you increase the depth of your practice, the benefits increase. Some doctors advise learning yoga in a supervised class because certain positions can cause injury if done incorrectly. Calories burned per half-hour: 200
An ancient Chinese exercise offers arthritis relief through slow, gentle movement.
By Mary Jo DiLonardo
For the uninitiated, tai chi may be a little daunting. The ancient Chinese exercise is hardly as mainstream as aerobics or the treadmill, but with its gentle, fluid movements and proven health benefits, it’s a natural arthritis workout.
Matthew Bosman, 38, started taking tai chi classes after back surgery, as well as psoriatic arthritis and osteoarthritis, left him unable to continue his vigorous gym workout routine.
“I was looking for something that was low-impact and not going to hurt,” says Bosman of Palm Springs, Calif., who now takes two 45-minute tai chi classes each week. “Tai chi is very calming and peaceful. I’m really skeptical about talking about chakra and all that, but it gives you a better energy.”
Tai chi also offers plenty of other benefits. Recent studies have found that the slow, graceful exercise, which originated several thousand centuries ago as a martial art, can improve balance, reduce stress and offer arthritis pain relief.
A study released by researchers at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Mass., found that tai chi can specifically reduce the pain and physical impairment of people with severe knee osteoarthritis.
Those results were no surprise to one of the biggest proponents of tai chi for people with arthritis, Dr. Paul Lam, a family physician in Sydney, Australia. Dr. Lam developed arthritis as a teenager growing up in China when malnourishment caused cartilage development problems. He began practicing tai chi to ease his arthritis pain, eventually modifying the popular Sun style of tai chi to make it easier for people with arthritis.
“A lot of people with arthritis don’t know they can do tai chi,” he says. “Even though the Sun style is slow and gentle, it does have high-risk moves as well. That’s why we modified it. We took the part that was more effective for healing and put in modification so that anyone could do it.”
Dr. Lam’s 12-step course is the basis for the Arthritis Foundation tai chi program, which includes classes led by trained experts (contact a local Arthritis Foundation office for information on classes near you) and is also available as a DVD for at-home practice. No special equipment is required – just comfortable clothing, patience and an open mind.
Betty Broderick, 67, of Cathedral City, Calif., acknowledges that she and her classmates might have looked silly when they were first learning their tai chi poses. “When we’re in a room with mirrors, you can actually see how dorky you look,” she says, admitting she prefers when the instructor takes the students outdoors for class.
But awkwardness aside, Broderick credits regular tai chi classes for lessening pain from knee osteoarthritis and a long bout with polymyalgia rheumatica. “I can do things I didn’t think were possible before,” she says, happy that she can now take long walks and be on her feet without having to stop because of aching joints. “I can’t say enough about tai chi. It changed my life.”
To become an instructor, contact your local Arthritis Foundation office to find out when the next tai chi program instructor training workshop will be held.
Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. Cancer is not just one disease but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer. Cancer patients often experience a diminished quality of life due to disease symptoms and side effects of treatment.
Cancer research led by Dr Byeongsang Oh from the University of Sydney, indicates that medical Qigong significantly improves quality of life in cancer patients. The study reports that cancer patients who used medical Qigong (combination of gentle exercise and meditation) experienced improved levels of cognitive functioning and less inflammation.
Several studies have indicated that Tai Chi and Qigong have many other health benefits, such as decreased heart rate, decreased blood pressure, lowered lipid levels, decreased levels of circulating stress hormones and enhanced immune function.
Two separate studies found a 12-week programme of exercise was enough to boost the immune system, and to cut blood sugar levels.
The traditional Chinese martial art combines deep breathing and gentle movement to boost relaxation levels.
Both studies, by researchers in Taiwan and Australia, appear in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Around 1.8 million people in the UK have type 2 diabetes and another 750,000 are thought to be undiagnosed.
The first study, by a team in Taiwan, compared 30 people with diabetes with 30 healthy people acting as controls.
Over 12 weeks the participants learned 37 Tai Chi movements under the guidance of an expert, and took home a video to study the correct poses.
They took part in three hour-long sessions a week.
At the end of the programme, tests on the group with type 2 diabetes showed a drop in their blood sugar levels, and a boost in the level of cells and chemicals key to a healthy immune response.
Strenuous physical activity is known to depress the immune system, but the latest study suggests that more moderate exercise may have the opposite effect.
Previous research has suggested Tai Chi boosts cardiovascular and respiratory function, as well as improving flexibility and relieving stress.
The researchers said that if Tai Chi improves the way the body breaks down sugar, it could have a beneficial impact on the immune system, which is sparked into excessive activity by the presence of high levels of sugar in the blood.
Alternatively, the exercise may simply boost the immune system by raising fitness levels, and engendering a feeling of wellbeing.
The second study by the University of Queensland, based on just 11 participants, produced similar results.
In this study the participants – who all had raised blood sugar levels – attended sessions of Tai Chi, and another similar martial art, Qigong, for 60 to 90 minutes three times a week.
As well as a drop in blood sugar levels, the participants lost weight, and recorded significant falls in blood pressure. Insulin resistance was also improved.
Participants also said they slept better, had more energy, felt less pain and had fewer food cravings while on the programme.
Cathy Moulton, of the charity Diabetes UK, said moderate exercise had been shown to have a beneficial impact on type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes UK recommends that people with diabetes do a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on at least five days of the week.
Ms Moulton said: “Any activity that leaves you feeling warm and slightly breathless but still able to hold a conversation counts as moderate exercise – including vigorously cleaning the house, briskly walking the dog and of course Tai Chi.
“In addition to the importance of moderate physical activity, the relaxation element of Tai Chi may help to reduce stress levels, preventing the release of adrenalin which can lead to insulin resistance and high blood glucose levels
Tai Chi Exercise Improves Mood and Health of Heart Failure Patients, Study Finds
The ancient Chinese exercise of tai chi features physical movements that are slow and gentle and require concentration.
“Historically, patients with chronic systolic heart failure were considered too frail to exercise and, through the late 1980s, avoidance of physical activity was a standard recommendation,” the researchers write. And, until now, the effects of meditative exercise have not been rigorously studied in a large group of heart failure patients.
Scientists at Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center followed 100 outpatients who had reduced heart-pumping function (“systolic heart failure”) and put them into two random groups of 50. One group took part in a 12-week tai chi-based exercise program, and the other group received time-matched education sessions. Both groups attended their sessions twice per week and were similar in terms of baseline demographics, severity of heart disease, and rates of other medical conditions.
Tai Chi Lifts Mood, Helps Heart Failure Patients
By the end of the study, people practicing tai chi had greater improvements in quality of life, including increased confidence to perform various forms of exercise, increased daily activity levels, and greater feelings of well-being, as compared to people in the education-only cohort.
The exercise encourages gentle, flowing circular movements, balance and weight shifting, and practicing of breathing techniques. According to the researchers, tai chi for heart failure patients is “safe and has good rates of adherence.”
This form of exercise may also be beneficial for people with hypertension, balance problems, and an impaired exercise capacity, the researchers write. The exercise appears to decrease anxiety, enhance vigor, and improve mood and is a safe alternative to moderate-intensity conventional exercise training.
There are many different types of complementary and alternative treatments believed to be effective for treating high blood pressure (hypertension). Scientific evidence indicates that a diet that is low in saturated fat and salt and rich in complex carbohydrates (vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fruits), increased physical activity, and regular practice of relaxation techniques such as yoga, Tai Chi, or Qigong, can help to lower high blood pressure.
Recommended Related to Hypertension
Renal hypertension, also called renovascular hypertension, is elevated blood pressure caused by kidney disease. It can usually be controlled by blood pressure drugs. Some people with renal hypertension can be helped by angioplasty, stenting, or surgery on the blood vessels of the kidney.
Diet to Lower High Blood Pressure
One of the simplest and most effective ways to lower your blood pressure is to eat a healthy diet, such as the DASH diet. Doctors recommend:
- Eating more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods
- Cutting back on foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat
- Eating more whole grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts
- Eating less red meat and sweets
- Eating foods that are rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium
Physical Activity to Lower Blood Pressure
A solid body of evidence shows that men and women of all age groups who are physically active have a decreased risk of developing high blood pressure. Findings from multiple studies indicate that exercise can lower blood pressure as much as some drugs can. People with mild and moderately elevated blood pressure who exercise 30 to 60 minutes three to four days per week (walking, jogging, cycling, or a combination) may be able to significantly decrease their blood pressure readings.
Blood Pressure, Breathing, and Stress Management
Blood pressure increases when a person is under emotional stress and tension, but whether or not psychological interventions aimed at stress reduction can decrease blood pressure in patients with hypertension is not clear.
Nevertheless, recent studies suggest that ancient relaxation methods that include controlled breathing and gentle physical activity, such as yoga, Qigong, and Tai Chi, are beneficial. People with mild hypertension who practiced these healing techniques daily for two to three months experienced significant decreases in their blood pressure, had lower levels of stress hormones, and were less anxious.
The results of a recent small study suggest that a daily practice of slow breathing (15 minutes a day for 8 weeks) brought about a substantial reduction in blood pressure. However, these findings need to be confirmed in larger and better-designed studies before these ancient healing techniques are recommended as effective non-pharmacological approaches to treating hypertension. Still, possible benefits, coupled with minimal risks, make these gentle practices a worthwhile activity to incorporate into a healthy lifestyle.
Note: It is important that inactive older people or those with chronic health problems be evaluated by their doctor before starting a program of any physical activity, including Tai Chi, Qigong, or yoga.
Herbal Therapies for High Blood Pressure
The efficacy and safety of herbal therapies, such as Rauwolfia serpentina (snakeroot), Stephania tetrandra (tetrandrine), Panax notoginseng (ginseng), and Crataegus species (hawthorn) for treating high blood pressure have not been extensively studied. Because of potential health risks associated with these herbs, it is imperative that you inform your doctor if you plan to use or are already using them. This is even more important if these herbs are used in combination with high blood pressure drugs. Some herbs, such as licorice, ephedra (Ma Huang), and yohimbine (from the bark of a West African tree) should not be used by people with hypertension, because they can increase blood pressure.
The practice of Tai Chi can play an important role in your overall health. Although it has not been shown that Tai Chi can lead to stronger bones, it can still be part of an effective exercise program for people with osteoporosis or low bone density. It can improve your strength, balance and body awareness – all important ingredients to a fall reduction strategy. As a result it is one of the great balance exercises for seniors.
Some of the challenges with Tai Chi are: getting started, learning the basics and pushing through the initial learning curve. To address these challenges, I have prepared a video demonstration of a basic foundation Tai Chi program comprised of 8 moves. I call the video: Tai Chi for Osteoporosis – 8 Steps to Bone Health. Take a look. Give it a try!
When you practice Tai Chi on a regular basis it yields a number of significant health benefits:
- Improved balance and strength – leading to a reduction in fall frequency
- Improved body awareness and coordination
- Stronger immune system
- Enhanced mental clarity and concentration
- Improved cardiovascular
Tai Chi is suitable for almost everyone. I have been practicing for many years and have enjoyed the experience. It involves slow, rhythmical and deliberate movements that exercise and stretch all bones, joints and muscles. All movements should come from the Tan T’ien – located 3 to 4 centimeters under the naval and two thirds of the way inwards towards your spine.
I am a big advocate of Tai Chi. Where appropriate, I encourage clients to practice this art. The MelioGuide Exercise for Better Bones Program includes a complete video presentation of the Tai Chi for Osteoporosis – 8 Steps to Bone Health. The video demonstrates the 8 steps from a front and back view, as well as detailed step-by-step replays of each movement.
I teach Tai Chi to Health Care Professionals who take my Building Better Bones continuing education course for Health Professionals on osteoporosis prevention, treatment and management. In fact, my online Building Better Bones includes a a lecture on Tai Chi as well as the detailed video demonstration of the 8 Steps to Bone Health.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that tai chi may improve balance and prevent falls among people with Parkinson’s disease.
Today’s post is written by Dr. Peter Wayne, Director of Research at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). Dr. Wayne is also the author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. The post was adapted from an article that appeared in the September 2013 issue of the Osher Center newsletter.
Parkinson’s disease affects more than one million Americans. This brain disorder interferes with muscle control, leading to trembling, stiffness, and inflexibility of the arms, legs, neck, and trunk; slowing or freezing of movement; and disruptions in balance, which can lead to harmful falls. These changes can greatly limit the ability of Parkinson’s patients to carry out everyday activities and compromise their quality of life.
Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s, the severity of symptoms can almost always be reduced. Treatment options for Parkinson’s disease may include medication, surgery, or other therapies, such as diet, exercise, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.
Tai chi, a balance-based exercise, is one non-pharmaceutical therapy which has been studied in patients with Parkinson’s disease. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that tai chi may improve balance and prevent falls among people with Parkinson’s disease.
The study looked at 195 men and women with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease. The patients were randomly assigned to twice-weekly sessions of tai chi, strength-building exercises, or stretching exercises. After six months, those who participated in tai chi were stronger and had much better balance than patients in the other two groups. Among tai chi patients, balance was about two times better than those in the resistance-training group and four times better than those in the stretching group. The tai chi group also had significantly fewer falls and slower rates of decline in overall muscle control. In addition, tai chi was found to be safe for Parkinson’s disease patients, with little risk of causing harm.
Other smaller studies have reported that tai chi can improve quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease and their support partners. These studies are significant because they suggest that tai chi can be used as an add-on to current physical therapies and medications in order to further ease some of the key problems faced by people with Parkinson’s disease.
Poor sleep quality is a common problem among older adults. Many have moderate sleep complaints, where they experience insomnia-like symptoms but are not yet diagnosed with insomnia. Sedative medications are commonly used to treat sleep disorders but can cause harmful side effects, and behavioral interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy are not always practical. Few treatments focus on improving sleep quality in people with moderate complaints. Tai chi chih—the Westernized version of the Chinese slow-motion meditative exercise tai chi—may serve as an effective alternative approach.
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted a randomized controlled trial, funded in part by NCCAM, to determine whether tai chi chih could improve sleep quality in healthy, older adults with moderate sleep complaints. In the study, 112 individuals aged 59 to 86 participated in either tai chi chih training or health education classes for 25 weeks. Participants rated their sleep quality based on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, a self-rate questionnaire that assesses sleep quality, duration, and disturbances.
The results of the study showed that the people who participated in tai chi chih sessions experienced slightly greater improvements in self-reported sleep quality. The researchers concluded that tai chi chih can be a useful nonpharmacologic approach to improving sleep quality in older adults with moderate sleep complaints, and may help to prevent the onset of insomnia.