Tai Chi is ageless: it helps memory, soothes pain.

The latest confirmation comes from a study of over-70s at the University of Oregon, which shows that four months of practice is more effective than stretching or other ad hoc gymnastics.

In addition, as other research has revealed, the gentle movements of Tai Chi help memory and improve the quality of life of those suffering from osteoarthritis and even Parkinson’s disease.

Often referred to as gentle gymnastics, Tai Chi Chuan (or Taijiquan according to the chosen transliteration method) is an internal martial art, related to Wushu Kung fu, with which it shares some principles, and especially to Chi Kung (or Qi Gong), the Chinese medical gymnastics.

‘Tai Chi is a martial art that originated as combat training and perhaps this has led doctors to study Qi Gong more, even though the principles on which the movements are based are the same’, explains Lucio Sotte, a specialist in traditional medicine and Chinese gymnastics. explains Lucio Sotte, a specialist in traditional medicine and Chinese gymnastics.

It is precisely this martial aspect that may tempt those who do not like the idea of a soft activity to learn the more or less long sequence of movements that form the basis of Tai Chi: what may appear as a dance is in fact a fight with a shadow adversary, which gives the practitioner a respectable musculature.

‘Of the various styles, the one most suitable for those approaching the practice at an older age is the Yang, while the Chen form requires more effort,’ notes instructor Maria Grazia Franzoni.

It can be practised satisfactorily in one’s 80s and beyond, although those who have difficulty coordinating their movements may find it difficult at first.

It is a course that requires patience, but it is suitable for a mature practitioner and for people with movement limitations,” says Sharon Gould, instructor in senior citizen courses, “and it helps strengthen the legs and improve balance and posture.

There are, therefore, no contraindications except for “those with serious cardiovascular problems”, Sotte points out.

And fall prevention is just one of the benefits of exercise that improves mood and circulation.

“According to Chinese tradition, the muscular training achieved through rotational movements is reflected in the activity of the internal organs,’ the doctor continues.

One example is the benefits of breathing techniques – abdominal and counter-abdominal or reverse breathing – combined with exercise: ‘These techniques, and especially counter-abdominal breathing, lead to lowering the diaphragm and making more use of the lung capacity that we usually use minimally,’ explains Sotte, ‘as well as massaging the viscera and improving circulation.

But there are other advantages: ‘Tai Chi requires attention, you have to follow the instructor’s rhythm and instructions, and this forces you to detach your mind,’ Franzoni explains.

It must also be said that Tai Chi is a low-cost preventive tool: ‘The exercises once learnt can be performed at home or practised in a group with the advantage that people socialise,’ Sotte concludes. concludes Sotte. And it is precisely sociability that is one of the virtues of this activity, which is a challenge with oneself and not a competition with fellow practitioners.


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