Tai Chi: An Effective Alternative Exercise

If the usual no-pain no-gain kinds of exercise don’t appeal to you, practicing the martial art known as tai chi (or qigong) may be the perfect alternative.

The gentle movements of tai chi can be done by everyone—even people who can exercise only while seated in a chair.

You can practice tai chi anywhere, and no special equipment is required.

Tai chi’s soft, fluid movements may give observers the impression that not much physical activity is taking place. But just a short period of practice reveals the benefits that can be gained.

How Can It Help You?

Several studies in the past decade reported by the World Medical Qigong Academic Society have confirmed tai chi’s potential to improve the health of diabetics. In 2005, researchers at Beijing University showed that blood glucose decreased in 58 percent of patients after seven days of practice (Complementary and Alternative Healing, 2005). These rates held steady or improved after one and three months of continuing the exercise.

In 1996, another Beijing study found that 43 percent of type 2 patients were able to take less medicine when practicing tai chi (as reported by the World Medical Qigong Academic Society Conference).

If you are interested in learning more about tai chi, there are resources such as www.worldtaichiday.org, which has a wealth of free information and a listing of tai chi instructors in your area. You can also check with local fitness centers or the YMCA. If you are interested in something more ambitious, most martial arts schools will allow you to try a session before committing to a class.

Getting Started

Although any good bookstore or library will offer a variety of videotapes and books about tai chi, these can’t compare to the support and guidance of an experienced instructor. Classes are available in many areas through local recreation facilities at reasonable prices. In a few larger cities, you may even find instruction specifically designed for diabetics. The number of tai chi styles (Yang, Chen, Sun) can be confusing, but all forms use the same beneficial core components. Working with a good instructor is more important than which style you learn.

Risks and undesirable side effects of tai chi are virtually nonexistent. However, you should consult with your diabetes management team and closely monitor personal results when beginning any new exercise because you may need an adjustment to your medication dosage.

What to Expect

A typical one-hour tai chi class includes gentle stretching, breathing exercises and a progressive presentation of the elements of the tai chi form. A short meditation may begin or end the session. Activities move at a slow, deliberate pace that leaves students feeling relaxed yet energized.

Some teachers schedule special classes for beginners, and others incorporate new students as they arrive. Individual progress determines your pace, which should never be rushed. In the practice of tai chi, patience brings success.

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