When one is recuperating from surgery or a medical event such as stroke, heart attack or COPD, exercise usually is an important part of recovery. If you’re in a rehabilitation facility, you’ll likely be following a course of treatment specific to your situation. But when you return home, keeping active will remain an important part of recovery.

But finding the right exercise can be challenging when in a less than optimum state of health. Exercise can lead to injuries in older adults, which can lead to serious health issues. Additionally, chronic conditions like arthritis make many high-impact exercises difficult. A heart condition might put prolonged, strenuous exercise out of reach. And yet, exercise is essential to maintaining optimum health. One exercise that continues to gain popularity is tai chi. It’s a low-impact exercise that is gentle on the joints, can be performed anywhere, and requires no expensive equipment. And almost everyone can participate. There are even tai chi routines for wheelchair users. And finally, it has many health benefits.

It makes you more physically fit

An article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that tai chi helped those living with osteoarthritis, COPD and heart failure show improvement in four areas: a six-minute walking test, muscle strength, the time it takes to get up and move, and quality of life. The best part? These results were accomplished without any pain while performing the exercises.

It reduces pain and stress

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people living with fibromyalgia who participated in tai chi classes twice a week for 12 weeks reported less pain than the control group, who participated in stretching sessions and wellness education twice a week. In addition to being a physical exercise, tai chi is also a meditative practice, which helps calm the mind, a leading factor in reducing stress.

It boosts the immune system

A study at UCLA discovered that practicing tai chi boosted one’s immunity to a level comparable to having received the shingles vaccine. The study divided individuals into two groups. Half took tai chi classes three times a week for 16 weeks, while the other half attended health education classes during the same time frame. After 16 weeks, both groups received the shingles vaccine. The tai chi group had twice the immunity level than the health education group.

It improves balance and reduces fall risk

In a study published by the Journal of Gerontology, older adults who practiced six months of tai chi decreased their frequency of falls by 55 percent compared to a group who simply performed stretching exercises.

It decreases depression

Researchers from the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences confirmed that tai chi can be effective in fighting depression in older adults. For some seniors, tai chi might even offer benefits to rival prescription antidepressant drugs, which can cause negative side effects or undesirable interactions with the other medicines a senior takes.

It can increase your quality of life

A research project from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston found that tai chi not only improves the mood of patients who are living with chronic heart failure, but also encourages them to be more active. Confirming the results of the UCLA researchers, the Beth Israel Deaconess team discovered that patients who participated in tai chi experienced an improvement in mood and quality of life. They also discovered that the patients were more motivated and confident during their prescribed walking regimen.

For information about The Alden Network’s Short-Term Rehabilitation Centers, which specialize in rehabilitation and therapy to build up strength and improve flexibility following an injury, illness or surgery, click here.  

This article is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. Speak to your doctor and/or therapist before beginning any exercise regimen.