Tai chi: Giving the elderly a new lease of life

The ancient Chinese art of tai chi could soon be prescribed on the NHS to help elderly patients suffering with arthritis, lung conditions and even chronic heart disease, if the British Journal of Sports Medicine gets its way.

The Chinese have long extolled the benefits of tai chi and it’s a common sight to see groups gathered in parks and public spaces early in the morning for an energising start to the day. It was originally a martial art in the 13th century and there are still practitioners who opt for the old-school approach, but modern day tai chi is a world away from lethal strikes and is now generally considered a form of low-impact exercise.

Tai chi uses relaxation techniques, gentle movements that aid flexibility and circulation and deep breathing that all contribute to a healthier lifestyle. Elderly patients crippled by arthritis have found relief through regular tai chi and the deep breathing techniques can have beneficial effects on the heart and lungs. The University of Vancouver has even produced a study suggesting that the Chinese art can help with the pain and associated symptoms of breast cancer.

The British Journal of Sports Medicine has concluded that tai chi could be a useful treatment for a number of ailments and can help the elderly with their co-ordination and balance, as well as muscle strength, which will prevent falls and injuries.

We are, however, some way away from preventative treatments like tai chi being offered as a matter of course on the NHS. The Chinese, though, have made community classes a part of their culture for decades and have reaped the rewards in terms of more active older people with fewer health issues.

Indeed this might be the best solution to introduce tai chi to the masses; rather than waiting for a doctor’s prescription, the best answer may be to offer classes for all. As things stand, there are classes all round the country that people of any age can enrol in and the health benefits are clear to see for those that want to take up the challenge.

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