Tai chi is not your typical type of weight loss exercise. In fact, its slow, graceful movements are the antithesis of high-energy gym workouts, and watching tai chi can evoke deep relaxation rather than rapid weight loss.
However, scientists have found that in addition to helping with a wide range of health issues, the ancient Chinese form of martial art is also a way to help with weight loss.
For the army of glamorous t’ai chi followers – including models Gisele Bündchen and Naomi Campbell – its benefits for the body are old news, but recent findings from researchers at the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University of Hong Kong, Annals of Internal Medicine in the review published, could lead to a new generation of followers.
For the trial, participants were divided into three groups. One group was prescribed a conventional weekly aerobic and strength training training program, another was asked to follow a tai chi program. The remaining group were asked to maintain their usual daily movements.
After three months, those who participated in the tai chi and regular exercise groups lost modest amounts of weight and also reduced their HDL (bad) cholesterol levels compared to the control group. However, the waistlines of the ta’i chi practitioners had narrowed most significantly.
The tai chi group lost 1.8 cm in size after the 12 week program, compared to 1.3 cm lost by those who do strength and aerobic exercises. After 38 weeks, both activity groups had maintained the changes in body weight and waist circumference, but only the tai chi group had maintained their improved blood cholesterol profile.
“Our data suggest that ta’i chi, a gentle body-mind exercise, may be an effective alternative to conventional exercise in the management of central obesity,” wrote lead author Parco M Siu, of the ‘University of Hong Kong School of Public Health. .
This is not the first time that tai chi has been praised for its fat fighting abilities.
Although using only about 108 calories in half an hour, a previous study has been shown that exercising five times a week for 45 minutes per session helps middle-aged adults lose a pound or more in 12 weeks, with no additional lifestyle changes.
Based loosely on animal movement patterns, tai chi is designed to keep your body in constant motion and involves harnessing your spiritual and mental energy. As with yoga, it involves deep breathing and does not require special clothing.
Tai chi movements range from simple shoulder and arm circles to intricate balances and martial arts kicks and punches. It’s as short or as complex as you want it to be, although for most beginners a 20 minute daily routine works well.
The relaxation-focused Yang-style tai chi is a good place to start, while the Chen-style, involving slow and fast movements with squats, kicks and punches, is best suited for the more experienced.
Maintain even basic positions for endurance and muscle conditioning, such as the horse position (with knees bent, feet parallel and shoulder width apart) and arch position (similar to a lunge), will build leg and glute strength, as well as core strength as you hold the position, and help your balance.
“Tai chi can help with many physical problems, especially those caused by modern day stress and tension,” says Declan Mills, a Dublin-based instructor (taichiclassesdublin.com). “The more you do, the more strength, endurance and flexibility you develop through the subtle realignment of body posture.”
These cumulative muscle gains can lead to a host of other fitness improvements, all of which can help with weight loss by making exercise easier.
A review involving 9,263 participants, conducted at Auckland University, reported that tai chi produced “psychological and physical benefits,” including improved flexibility, improved lung capacity and balance, and even improved running speed in volunteers.
The well documented anti-stress effects tai chi also help make it the ally of a diet. A 2019 pilot study on middle-aged women at the University of Arizona described how regular practice of tai chi can “potentially reduce weight and improve body composition through psychological, behavioral and physiological effects” and “reduce weight loss. emotional distress ”which leads to overeating.
Mills says some of his clients enjoy similar benefits.
“Due to the smooth and coordinated movements, participants gain better control over various functions of the body,” he says. “Their breathing slows down and deepens, which balances the nervous system and increases energy.”
Balance on one leg: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding onto a chair if you need support.
Slowly lift your right leg and bend your right knee until your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Hold for 30 seconds, then return your right foot to the ground and repeat on the left.
Work your way up until you can maintain a balance on one leg on each leg for 60 seconds.
Knee brush: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and extend your arms out to your sides. Rotate your right palm upward while raising your right arm to the sky on your right side. Simultaneously rotate the left palm down as you float the left arm down to the same side.
Slowly bring one foot forward, turn your hips and push your right hand forward, while putting your left hand down. Continue to circle your arms to return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Warrior: Stand with your feet together and your hands hanging freely at your sides. Take a deep breath and bend your knees to sink in, your left hand flat and your right hand in a fist. Continue to inhale while covering your right fist with your left hand, slowly lift yourself upward.
Get into a straight leg position, exhale and come back down to repeat on the other side.
Horse mane: Stand up straight and place your right hand on top of the left with a gap in the middle, palms facing each other as if you were carrying a small ball. Shift your weight to the right foot.
Bring the left leg in front of your body and, while shifting your weight to the left leg, move the left hand forward as if you are throwing a frisbee. Bring your right hand back and down to rest. Repeat on the other side.
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