Tag: healthy lifestyle

10 Benefits of Tai Chi for Better Overall Health, Well-Being and Living Longer

 

“The reason I exercise is for the quality of life I enjoy.” – Kenneth H. Cooper

 

In the search for effective ways to experience positive outcomes in the all-important life aspects such as overall health, well-being and mortality, one of the sleeper strategies to consider involves adopting an ancient Chinese practice called tai chi. Here are some of the benefits of tai chi documented by research.

Live longer.

Tai Chi is a mind-body practice that originated in China and remains today the most common form of exercise for adults in that country. In addition to the much-researched benefits for reduced mortality from moderate-intensity exercise, such as you get from regular walking and jogging, researchers found the first evidence that tai chi also promotes longevity. The greatest benefit from tai chi was obtained from those who self-reported engaging in the practice 5-6 hours per week.

Improve muscle strength, balance and flexibility.

A systematic review of older patients with chronic conditions who engaged in regular tai chi exercise found that, in addition participants’ physiological and psychosocial benefits, the practice also appeared to promote better balance control, flexibility, strength, respiratory and cardiovascular function. Researchers noted, however, that it was difficult to state firm conclusions about the reported benefits and called for more well-defined studies to drill down to specific, verifiable results. In other research, a clinical trial of older women with osteoarthritis who completed a 12-week tai chi exercise program found participants experienced improved arthritic symptoms (less pain), balance and physical function. Researchers urged a larger-sample longitudinal study to confirm use of tai chi in arthritis exercise management.

Boost cognitive function.

Although the fact is that cognitive decline is prevalent among older adults (about 40 percent of older adults in America have some form of cognitive impairment, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease), it need not be considered a foregone conclusion. Nor should getting older need be synonymous with cognitive decline. A growing body of evidence points to the benefits to older adults from practice of tai chi in the areas of global cognitive and memory functions, especially verbal working memory. A meta-analysis found agreement with the findings of numerous studies on the benefits to cognitive function from physical exercise, and researchers recommended tai chi as an alternative mind-body exercise to improve older adults’ cognitive functioning.

Improve COPD symptoms.

An Australian study found that a modified tai chi program – Sun-style tai chi — helped boost exercise capacity and improved participant’s chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms. Researchers noted that tai chi has “highly clinically relevant effects on endurance and peak exercise capacity in people with COPD.”

Get better night-time sleep quality.

A 2016 pilot randomized controlled trial evaluating the benefits of tai chi qigong (TCQ) on night-time sleep quality of older adults with cognitive impairment found better quality of both sleep and life than a control group not participating in tai chi qigong. Since more than 25 percent of older adults with cognitive impairment suffer impaired sleep quality, the search for nonpharmacological approaches to improve the quality of night-time sleep is gaining momentum. Due to their low physical strength and medical condition, however, many older adults with cognitive impairment cannot engage in certain exercises. Thus, developing exercise programs tailored to mental conditions and reduced physical well-being is important. Results from the pilot trial showed tai chi qigong participants benefited from improved sleep qualities in the areas of sleep duration, sleep efficiency, and the mental health component of quality of life. Researchers noted that, as a low-intensity exercise, TCQ is an appropriate intervention to improve night-time sleep quality in older adults with cognitive impairment.

Improve symptoms of fibromyalgia.

In a study comparing the effectiveness of tai chi and aerobic exercise on fibromyalgia symptoms in patients, researchers found that tai chi resulted in similar or greater symptom improvement than aerobic exercise. Longer-duration tai chi provided greater improvements, researchers noted, concluding that the mind-body approach of tai chi may be a viable therapeutic option in the multidisciplinary management of fibromyalgia.

See improvements in cardiovascular fitness.

Millions of Americans exercise to help boost their cardiovascular health. Yet, many who do so do not realize the research-backed evidence that certain types of exercise specifically benefit cardiovascular function. Indeed, zeroing in on what types of exercise benefit the heart in healthy adults is only recently attracting researcher interest. A review of 20 studies of healthy adults comparing tai chi exercise with non-intervention found that tai chi has a significant impact in improving heart efficiency by reducing resting blood pressure, resting heart rate, and enhancing stroke outcome and cardiac output at quiet reading. The review also found significant improvement in respiratory function from tai chi exercise.

Reduce risk of falls.

Among older adults, the risk of falling is an ever-present and major concern. As such, finding therapeutic approaches to help reduce fall risk in this cohort is of major importance. A 2016 review  of 10 randomized controlled trials examining tai chi’s effect on fall reduction found the ancient Chinese exercise demonstrates a significant protective effect on fall prevention risk among older adults. Researchers noted the need for additional trials to determine both optimal duration and frequency of tai chi programs and optimal style of such programs for older adults.

Reduce prenatal anxiety and depression.

A 2013 study of tai chi and yoga treatment for prenatal women with anxiety and depression found that the tai chi group had lower scores in depression and anxiety, as well as lower scores in sleep disturbance at the end of the 12-week, once-per-week sessions.

Obtain moderate benefits for chronic nonspecific neck pain.

Chronic pain sufferers are always on the lookout for effective pain relief that is nonaddictive, effective and safe. A 2016 study found that a 12-week program of tai chi resulted in more than 50 percent pain reduction in 39 percent of patients with chronic nonspecific neck pain, compared with more than 50 percent pain reduction in 46 percent of study participants engaging in conventional neck exercises. Researchers noted that both tai chi and conventional neck exercises are safe and effective. They said further that tai chi may be a suitable alternative to conventional neck exercises.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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Combat Stress with Mindful Walking

Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel/Unsplash

Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel/Unsplash

“When you look at the sun during your walking meditation, the mindfulness of the body helps you to see that the sun is in you; without the sun there is no life at all and suddenly you get in touch with the sun in a different way.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

 

A lot of people are scared off by the words “mindfulness meditation” and likely shy away from anything mindful. That’s a shame, because research shows that the practice of mindful meditation and mindfulness in everyday activities is powerful and effective.

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to get involved with mindfulness is to begin mindful walking. To gain some insight into how meditation can work to help manage stress, I got in touch with David Lynch, Namaste Culture Limited, who practices in the United Kingdom.

Is there a simple statement you use to help people be more present – even if they are resistant?

Meditation can seem like a daunting prospect, especially if you’re already feeling anxious or low in mood. When addressing an audience who have little experience of it, I tend to talk more in terms of a practice that helps you still your mind, in the way that a run or yoga might do. I use terms like an invitation to experiment with a new approach to managing stress. I make reference to the findings of neuroscience and the many proven benefits of developing a regular practice.

What is a mindful walk? How do you do it?

It’s like any other walk with an extra focus on all the senses, exploring both internal and external landscapes, and their interconnectedness. It’s walking more slowly than usual, less concerned with the final goal, more engaged with the sensations of the body, and savoring the impact of the external world on the inner experience.

How long does it take while walking to let go of all the “noise” in your head and embrace nature?

Not long at all, although it can feel like a long time, if you’ve come straight from a busy office environment, where you’ve been very goal-focused. Walking outdoors in nature helps you to switch off, to disengage from fast thinking and problem-solving.

Suppose there aren’t any gardens near work or school or elsewhere to walk. How can you get the same effect otherwise? Can you walk up and down stairs, for example, and be mindful? Or do you need some calming influence you best achieve when in nature?

In some ways, it can be easier to walk indoors, either in a circle or in straight lines, where the invitation is to focus very much on your body’s internal experience, without the distraction of nature’s beauty. I think you have to be clear in your motivation to walk purposefully in a room, to be yourself on track, but once you get going, the rhythm of your body and the simplicity of the task soon stills your mind. Even 10 minutes on your lunch break can make a difference.

What are the specific benefits of mindful garden walks?

My experience is that the combined regenerative effects of walking in nature’s beauty, breathing fresh air and practicing mindfulness, results in an immediate uplift in mood and outlook. It’s as if these combined forces offer a fresh perspective on whatever your mind is grappling with.

How long do they last?

This summer, I was inviting office workers to a 40-minute experience, enough time to get back to the office during a lunch break. [This included] 10 minutes [of] instruction, 20 minutes walking and 10 minutes debrief and discussion.

Can you talk about the benefits of mindful walking to relieve stress? How does this work? Do you intentionally shut your mind off from stressful emotions, thoughts, etc., or do you go through a process of letting go?

Mindful walking helps relieve stress because the invitation is to connect with the felt experience of stress in the body and mind, the opposite off switching off from it, or suppressing the unwelcome and sometimes painful sensations of stress.

Walking works on at least two levels to relieve stress:

  • The mind is focusing on the moment by moment experience of the walking movement, the placing of the foot, the shifting weight from leg to leg, and not on the source of what’s inducing the stress response. Just keeping balanced and upright is enough to focus the mind.
  • The invitation is to acknowledge and connect with the sensations, emotions and thoughts, no matter how unpleasant and unwelcome, e.g. I can feel my heart racing, I feel nausea in the pit of my stomach, I notice my racing obsessing thoughts.

The additional benefit of walking in nature is that our mind’s attention falls on the sound of the rustling leaves, on the beauty of the light falling on the path, and gains a broader perspective on our experience. Suddenly, we note that we are part of something bigger and [better] than our stress response.

Is it better to walk with others or alone – or does it matter?

It’s probably easier to practice together when you first start, as it helps motivate you. However, once learned, mindful walking can be done anywhere and enjoyably by yourself; walking to work through busy streets, walking to your next business meeting. You just choose to do it with your attention on your felt experience, slow down and enjoy the sensations of walking.

How long does it take to make mindful walking a healthy habit?

Our program is for eight weeks, because that’s what the researchers/experts recommend to establish a sustainable meditation practice, to embed a change in our daily routine, to commit to a lifestyle shift in how we manage demands, responsibilities and stress.

Of course, it is not enough to learn mindfulness practices for eight weeks and then to expect the change to happen, without maintaining a daily practice, or at least regular practice. We’re talking lifestyle change. That said, I have trainees who have said that although they no longer meditate on a regular basis, they have learned the tools to address stress differently when it arises, and therefore benefit from the skills development, no matter what.

Any final thoughts?

I am no expert in mindfulness. I am a practitioner, a facilitator of learning, a coach, who has combined several professional qualifications (teaching, counseling, management) and 30 years’ experience to create an experiential model of learning that adapts to the learners needs and vulnerabilities. They learn, I learn, and I love my work.

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Also check out My 10 Favorite Summertime Stress-Busters and 10 Quick Ways to Beat Stress.

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Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of is You

Photo by Wilson Magalhães

Photo by Wilson Magalhães

“There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling leaves and remember that it is enough to be taken care of by myself.” — Brian Andreas

 

When life swirls around us, it’s often difficult to remember that the first priority has to be taking care of ourselves. Instead, we look to care for others, even to the point of self-exhaustion. While it’s loving and kind-hearted to be so selfless, it’s not good for our overall well-being in the long run. In order to be around and able to help others, we have to be physically, mentally and emotionally healthy.

Good self-care, then, is not only important, but also imperative. Here are some tips on how to take proper care of you.

Eat right. With life so hectic, the temptation to skip meals, scarf down junk food and eat too much at once is sometimes tough to ignore. That doesn’t mean it’s good for your body. Think about what you put in your mouth before you eat. Maintain a well-balanced diet and eat regular meals. Your body will thank you for eating healthy.

Sleep well. In order to be alert and ready to go each day, you first need to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep, according to experts, plays an important role in everything from memory to learning. Adults generally need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. The key is uninterrupted sleep.

Get regular exercise. A healthy body and mind requires regular physical exercise. What you do is less important than doing it. Start with something manageable, such as a good run or walking in a park or through the neighborhood. If you have a dog, this is a natural for both of you. Ask friends to accompany you. Walk instead of drive to a nearby coffee shop. Take up a recreational sport. Join a gym. The choices are endless. The point is to do it.

Drink plenty of fluids. You might not realize it, but your body constantly loses fluids during the day. Such losses occur naturally in urination and elimination of stools, in breathing, and skin evaporation. The more physical exertion you do, the faster you lose fluids. The human body requires hydration for organs to operate efficiently. In fact, the body is about 60% water. The best way to replace lost fluids is to drink water. It’s readily available and the fact is that you can’t live without it.

Manage stress. Allowing the day’s turmoil to eat at you is going to drag you down, physically and mentally. Taking proper care of yourself means that you do whatever you find that works to manage stress. This can take many forms, from meditation to deep breathing exercises, massage, prayer, yoga or other relaxation techniques, to cognitive-behavioral therapy and setting clear goals.

Spend time with friends. You know how much you value friendships, particularly with those who share your interests. Studies show that friendships enrich life and make it healthier. Not only do you enjoy being with good friends, the interaction is good for your overall health and well-being. What more evidence do you need to share some quality time with your friends?

Engage in learning new pursuits. When you pursue something new, something different, your mind is actively involved in a desirable goal. The unknown, while sometimes scary, can also be stimulating, challenging and ultimately rewarding. Learning something new can help you overcome fear, push you beyond self-imposed boundaries, and provide a much-needed boost in self-confidence and self-esteem.

Tap into your spirituality. You don’t need to be religious to be able to tap into your spirituality. Tending to your spiritual needs is as important as getting sufficient sleep, eating well and everything else you do to take care of your body. There is more to life than just existing. You are more than the sum of your parts. Take time to reflect on the bigger picture, using yoga, meditation, self-reflection or whatever helps you get outside of yourself.

Avoid excessive alcohol intake. Using alcohol as a coping mechanism is bound to backfire. The tendency to reach for a drink to deal with problems or forget about them for a while can quickly spiral out of control. If you aren’t able to decrease your drinking on your own, get professional help. Otherwise, cut down on how much you drink.

Don’t smoke. There is absolutely no physical benefit to smoking. If you’ve never smoked, don’t start. If you do smoke, make a decision to stop. Smoking can lead to serious health problems, but you will improve your health by quitting the smoking habit.

Pay attention to your needs. Put yourself at the top of your list of priorities. Remember that you need to be healthy in order to be available to help others. This means being mindful of what you need to do to stay healthy. It isn’t selfish, it’s actually self-care.

Maintain an optimistic, hopeful outlook. Life will throw you a few curve balls, to be sure. And you never know when you’ll be called on to deal with them. The best thing you can do is to adopt and maintain an optimistic, hopeful outlook. If you believe you will succeed, you will. If you see the positive instead of the negative, the results are likely to follow suit. Don’t be afraid of challenges. Be hopeful, prepare yourself to act and follow through.

 

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