Tai chi is sometimes described as meditation in motion. Originally developed in China as a form of self-defense, this graceful form of exercise has existed for about 2,000 years. It's becoming increasingly popular around the world, both as a basic exercise program and as a complement to other health care methods. Health benefits include stress reduction, greater balance and increased flexibility - especially for older adults.
If you're trying to improve your general health, you may find tai chi helpful as part of your program. Tai chi is generally safe for people of all ages and levels of fitness. Studies have shown that for older adultstai chi can improve balance and reduce the risk of falls. Because the movements are low impact and put minimal stress on your muscles and joints, tai chiis appealing to many older adults. For these same reasons, if you have a condition such as arthritis or you're recovering from an injury, you may find it useful.
When learned correctly and practiced regularly, tai chi appears to be a very positive form of exercise. It's self-paced and noncompetitive. You don't need a large physical space or special clothing or equipment. You can do tai chi anytime, anyplace. Because tai chi is slow and gentle, it has virtually no negative side effects. It's possible you could strain yourself or overdo things when first learning, but with proper instruction, this shouldn't pose a barrier to practicing tai chi.
To gain the full benefits of tai chi and reduce the small risk of injury, learn the correct way to do the postures and movements. Strict attention to your body position and breathing are critical, so it's best to study directly under a teacher rather than with a book or videotape. As you attend a series of classes, the instructor can give you personal guidance and correct any errors in your approach before they become habit. As you practice, you learn how to do tai chi without straining your muscles and joints.
Once you're comfortable with the tai chi basics, you can do it by yourself. You may find it helpful to practice tai chi in the same place and at the same time every day. You'll likely experience some health benefits right away, but they probably won't be dramatic. Be patient. Health benefits accumulate over time.