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In addition to lowering blood pressure, this gentle form of exercise can help maintain strength, balance, flexibility and mental health and is an ideal activity for all ages!

This research was brought to my attention by my friend and mentor from Dalton, Peter Frieder, Chairman,Gentex Corporation and current Board Chair at WVIA. Peter is celebrating his birthday today with a number of years that clearly does not represent his physiological age, in great part due to his dedication to health and wellness. Happy Birthday and thank you!

According to a new study by the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences (CACMS), the ancient martial art practice of Tai Chi is effective in lowering blood pressure as much, if not more, than traditional aerobic exercise. For those with prehypertension or hypertension and are unable to tolerate the repetitive and prolonged weight bearing stresses of running, walking or cycling, these results have tremendous implications. The slow, gentle and controlled movements and positions of Tai Chi coupled with controlled breathing and meditation may be a valuable alternative, especially for those with aging muscles and joints. Improved strength, flexibility balance, posture and mental health are additional bonuses.

WHAT IS TAI CHI?

Tai Chi is multifaceted in that it combines martial arts, slow gentle and controlled movements, sustained postures, a focused and meditative mind, and controlled breathing. It is considered by many to be “meditation or medication in motion.”

Tai Chi involves slow-motion movements transitioning with control from one position to another. The positions have historically been named for the actions of animals, for example:

“White Crane Spreads its Wings”

Deep and purposeful breathing, mental focus, body awareness and meditation are integral components of the exercise. The beauty of Tai Chi is not only in the physical form, but also in its safety for all levels of fitness. It is helpful for individuals from high level athletes to those with physical disabilities. The movements are natural and gentle without forcing the muscles and joints to extreme or uncomfortable positions. It is often used as an adjunct therapy in the wellness as well as rehabilitation of a variety of athletic (ACL surgery, joint replacements) and neurological conditions (Parkinson’s, MS, head trauma), to name a few. Based on the aforementioned Chinese study, Tia Chi can be applied as a technique to control or lower blood pressure, especially for those who cannot utilize traditional aerobic exercise.

HEALTH BENEFITS OF TAI CHI

Tai Chi has been found to offer many physical and mental benefits. Some of these include:

Muscle Strength – upper and lower body, trunk and core strength

Flexibility – participants report improved range of motion and flexibility of the spine and extremities

Balance and Proprioception – some studies report a reduction of falls due to a variety of sustained positionsand improved awareness of one’s body in space

Aerobic Conditioning  -  recent studies have found that participants have lower heart rate and blood pressure

Mental Health – through improved balance, strength, and flexibility, studies show participants have gained confidence and control as well as lower blood pressure and stress reduction.

HOW TO BEGIN TAI CHI

All Tai Chi classes begin with four basic principles: warm-up, instruction, practice and breathing.

Warm-up- gentle easy motions to warm-up and loosen the joints and muscles to prevent injury.

Tai Chi Forms – “Short Forms” are beginner movements which are gentle, slow, and short in duration while “Long Forms” are more advanced.

Breath Work – gentle breathing combined with movement to relax the mind and focus energy

GETTING STARTED (HarvardHealth):

Don’t be intimidated by the language or history – Yang, Wu, Cheng are only brands of movements with a history of martial arts but this in no way impacts participation.

Get medical clearance – check with your physician to see if Tai Chi is safe for you. Some orthopedic or vestibular problems might require special attention.

Observe or take a beginner class – often available at local fitness clubs or senior centers. Research options in your area and find a friend to join you. Consider an introductory instructional video to get a feel for Tai Chi. (See local Tia Chi classes below)

Meet with an instructor – if it makes you more comfortable, make time to talk to an instructor before enrolling in a class.

Dress for success – wear loose-fitting clothes that allow for range of motion and comfortable shoes for balance and support.

Track your progress – use an app or keep a journal of your progress. Heart rate, blood pressure and endurance (the time you can hold a pose or tolerate a class) are easy to monitor.

Model: Lily Smith, University of Scranton Physical Therapy Student and PT aide at Mackarey Physical Therapy.

Sources: HarvardHealthPublishing; New Atlas; China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences (CACMS); National Institutes of Health

Local Tai Chi Classes: Steamtown Yoga, Scranton, PA; Mission Yoga, Scranton, PA;Dragon’s Heart Tai Chi & Kung Fu, Clarks Summit, PA; Rothrocks Kung Fu & Tai Chi, Duryea, PA

For more information: HarvardHealth; www.taichihealth.com; www.treeoflifetaichi.com

EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” via Blog

EVERY SUNDAY in "The Sunday Times" - Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” in hard copy

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: drpmackarey@msn.com

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy in Scranton and Clarks Summit. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. For all of Dr. Mackarey's articles, visit our exercise forum!

Have Fun and Get in Shape!

Memorial Day is the unofficial kickoff to summer…outdoor furniture is out, the grill is fired up and the pool is open! This summer try to think of your pleasure puddle in different light…a health spa! It may very well be the exercise of choice for many people. Many have discovered the benefits of moving their limbs in the warm water of a home pool following knee or shoulder surgery. Also, long distance runners who often look for cross training methods without joint compression and arthritis sufferers who are often limited in exercise choices by joint pain from compressive forces when bearing weight, can enjoy the buoyancy effects of  water. These are good examples of the benefits or water exercise…aerobic and resistive exercise without joint compression.  

Exercise and Arthritis

Most doctors recommend some form of exercise with arthritis. Pain and fatigue are the most limiting factors for the person with arthritis. Pool exercise may be the answer. With proper technique, adequate rest periods, appropriate resistance and repetitions, water exercise can be very effective.

Benefits

The following are some of the benefits of water exercise:

Getting Started

  1. Start Slowly – Don’t Overdo it
    • 5-10 minutes and repetitions first time and add 2-3 minutes/repetitions each week
    • Long Term Goal: 20 – 40 minutes per session - 3-4 times per week
  2. Submerge The Body Part - That you want to exercise into the water and move it slowly
  3. Complete The Range of Motion - Initially 5 times, then 10-15-20-30 times
  4. Assess - Determine if you have pain 3-4 hours after you exercise or into the next day. If so you overdid it and make adjustments next time by decreasing repetitions, speed, amount and intensity of exercise.
  5. Warm-Up - Make sure you warm up slowly before the exercise with slow and easy Movements
  6. Advance Slowly - By adding webbed gloves, weighted boots, and buoyant barbells to increase the resistance.
  7. Exercises – standing in shallow end of pool
    • Heel Raises - push toes down and heel up
    • Toe Raises – lift toes up and heel down
    • Leg Kicks – extend leg up and down
    • Hip Hike – raise knee up 4-6 inches and down
    • Leg Squeeze – squeeze knees together and apart
    • Leg Curl – bend knee
    • Torso Twist – slowly turn arms/torso to right, then to left
    • Shoulder Forward and Backward – like paddling a boat
    • Shoulder Out and In – like a bird flying
    • Bend Elbow Up and Down

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.     

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”  

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: drpmackarey@msn.com

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM. For all of Dr. Mackarey's articles, visit our Health and Exercise Forum!