tai chi

Exercise expert says seniors can win back strength

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Judy Magid, The Times-Herald, PA:W hen it comes to aging, “use it or lose it” appears to be a no-brainer.

The mantra propels countless motions on treadmills, leg presses and stationary bikes, helping prevent heart disease, reducing stress, jump-starting reflexes, increasing bone density and energizing the brain. And inspiring a little guilt.

The downside is that those who might describe themselves as “extreme middle-agers” have not used “it” for a while and figure “it” is gone.

“Not true,” says Colin Milner, chief executive of the International Council on Active Aging, a Canada-based group that focuses on exercise for folks 50 and older. He acknowledges that most people begin to lose strength at about 35, and more than half of their strength is gone by 70.

“But you can regain strength and become stronger at any age,” he says. “All you have to do is keep moving.”

From personal trainers to Feldenkrais movement classes to tai chi to walking in a straight line at home, there are plenty of ways to practice “active aging,” what Milner defines as being “engaged in life.”

Although diet modification and genetics figure in the mix, exercise has the best potential for keeping people healthy as they grow older, he says.

“There is no magic pill,” Milner says. “But if there is a magic formula, it would be exercise.”

As an exercise therapist, Milner was impressed by a Tufts University study on the benefits of intensive strength training for seniors. “In the Tufts study, people up into their late 90s trained at the same level of intensity as younger people. No one got hurt. They got stronger,” he says.

Milner defines “level of intensity” as doing repetitive lifts at 70 percent to 80 percent of the maximum amount of weight you can lift.

“If you can lift 100 pounds, you train by lifting 70 to 80 pounds in two or three sets of eight to 10 lifts. It does not matter how old you are.”

That goes for balance, too. The National Institutes of Health reports that 1.6 million older American adults wind up in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries, and names falls as the No. 1 cause of debilitating fractures, loss of independence and injury death, seniors can relearn good balance and strengthen bones with exercise.

Getting started is the problem for most.

“Find something you enjoy doing and stick with it,” says Milner. “If you get bored by lifting weights or running, you won’t stay with it long.”

Milner says soccer provides his motivation to move. “I play every week. Like any other (baby) boomer, I take bumps and bruises and go back for more,” he says.

At 50, that may be easier for him to say than it will be at 65.

But, he adds, consider this: “When I was a youngster, there were no 50-year-old soccer players.”

Do-it-yourself fitness

For folks who shun gyms and workout classes, experts suggest four types of exercises that can be practiced at home: strength-training (weight lifting); balance exercises (walking a straight line placing heel to toe); flexibility (slow stretching); and endurance training (walking, swimming, jogging).

Some tips:

— Before starting an exercise program at any age, have a word with your physician.

— Exercise can be in 10-minute shifts.

— Walk up and down stairs for one minute. Rest for one minute, then repeat. Work up to climbing for two minutes, resting for one minute. Repeat.

— No stairs? Walk briskly for seven minutes.

— For strength training, try biceps curls with a 2-pound soup can in each hand. Arms by your sides, palms facing forward, bend each arm at the elbow and bring the weight toward the front of your shoulders. Lower and repeat. Do two sets of eight or 10 repetitions.

— Breathe out as you lift or push a weight and breathe in as you relax.

— Use smooth, steady movements to bring weights into position; avoid jerking or thrusting movements; avoid locking the joints of arms and legs into a strained position.

— Muscle soreness lasting a few days and slight fatigue are normal after exercise. Exhaustion, sore joints and painful muscle pulls are not normal.

— You should do strength exercises for all major muscle groups at least twice a week.

— If you can lift a weight more than 15 times in a row, it is too light for you.

— Drink water even if you are not thirsty.

Sources: AARP The Magazine (November & December 2006, May & June 2007); Newsweek (March 26); Wall Street Journal (Feb. 1);

Journal of the American Medical Association (July 12, 2006); NIH Senior Health (www.nihseniorhealth.gov)

Personal training: Workouts as unique as you are

Walker and Sue Wallace are committed to strength training, but a regular gym doesn’t cut it for them.

“The twentysomethings and the wild music are not the problem. Being forced to watch Fox News while using the treadmill or bike is too much to ask,” Walker Wallace says, joking.

That is why they followed personal trainer Paul Holbrook to AgeWell Center in Salt Lake City, which is geared to people 50 and older. They get an hour’s workout with Holbrook’s full attention and empathy, if not sympathy.

“Paul knows exactly what we need to work on and what we are capable of doing,” Sue Wallace says, doing leg lifts after a knee replacement. Meanwhile, Walker is busy on the “Skiers Edge” machine, looking like a man who has been on a downhill run a time or two.

Holbrook loves it. He became interested in senior exercise when he watched an uncle deteriorate in a nursing home.

“There were no activities to help him maintain strength, let alone build it. I decided to concentrate on helping older adults keep fit,” he says.

Barbara and Norm Tanner also work out at AgeWell Center. At 90, Barbara plays tennis, has myriad volunteer and philanthropic interests and is patiently waiting for her grandchildren to have children. Norm, 92, doesn’t play tennis anymore, but he and his wife train with Holbrook twice a week.

Workouts at AgeWell include treadmills, leg presses and pneumatic machines, which are easier on the joints than weight-stacked machines. Holbrook is at a client’s elbow to avoid falls during freestyle balance exercises. An hour long session runs about $85.

Like the Wallaces, the Tanners appreciate working one-on-one with a personal trainer. “We have been with Paul since he opened,” Barbara Tanner says. “He makes us work, and I know very well I wouldn’t do it on my own.”

And while she knows people can gain strength after losing it, she also is aware how quickly it can be lost.

“I have always worked at it. I used to swim a lot when I was young. I took dancing lessons for years. But if you stop doing all that, it takes longer to get strong. And you can lose it faster.”

(Tai chi: Awakening a mind-body connection

Tai chi is described as moving meditation by Ellie Ienatsch, who teaches classes for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Utah.

Her classroom for the Osher class is the dance room of the Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City. With soothing music in the background, students follow Ienatsch’s lead with slow, graceful, deliberate movements combining balance, flexibility, aerobic and toning exercises.

Health and exercise mavens tout the non-impact tai chi as an especially good fit for people over 50, helping them improve balance, enhance blood circulation and ease pain caused by arthritis.

Based on an ancient Chinese martial art, today’s tai chi, or tai chi ch’uan, is practiced by some enthusiasts for its spiritual nature, while others engage in tai chi solely for health benefits. Many practice tai chi as a “soft fist” martial art, translated as “shadow boxing.”

Ienatsch practices tai chi on more than one level.

“I was not successful at transcendental meditation,” she says, speaking of the technique defined as seeking serenity through regular meditation centered on repetition of a mantra.

“I wanted to move, to hike in the mountains,” she continues. “The beauty is relaxing. When you are moving, you breathe deeply because you have to. The slow circular moves needed to go up a trail become a rhythm.”

Her classes often consist of beginners mainly interested in the physical rewards of tai chi. She begins with awakening exercises such as joint rotations and neck turns.

Class members stand, gathering the chi or qi, fundamental life energy, from the earth and sky, then “stretch wings toward the sky with the crane” before Ienatsch guides them through a series of tai chi movements that make up a form. A form can take up to 20 minutes to complete.

“Tai chi is more than a choreographed set of movements,” Ienatsch says. “It is about moving. For hundreds of years, Chinese doctors prescribed physical exercises to cure physical ailments.

“You cannot get young again, but you must keep moving, no matter how infirm you are. Just imagining a movement can be almost as beneficial as doing it.”

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For health benefits, try Tai Chi

The gentle, 2,000-year-old Chinese practice of tai chi is often described as “meditation in motion.” But the Harvard Women’s Health Watch newsletter suggests a more apt description is “medication in motion.”

Tai chi, the most famous branch of Qigong, or exercises that harness the qi (life energy, pronounced “chee”), has been linked to health benefits for virtually everyone from children to seniors. Researchers aren’t sure exactly how, but studies show that tai chi improves the quality of life for breast cancer patients and Parkinson’s sufferers. Its combination of martial arts movements and deep breathing can be adapted even for people in wheelchairs. And it has shown promise in treating sleep problems and high blood pressure.

Read the rest of this article…

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The benefits of meditation: Relaxation technique is good for body, mind and soul

Eating right and exercising are good for one’s overall physical health, and physicians often prescribe drugs to treat various ailments. But one of the best ways to care for your body as well as your mind doesn’t come from a store or an orange bottle.

Meditation has long been used as a method to calm and relax the body and soul, takes very little time and costs virtually nothing.

Marietta resident Catherine Bigley, a mom of five, finds herself meditating at various times throughout the day.

“It’s usually in a moment when I know something is coming at me,” she said. “I use it at stop lights when I know I have at least anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes. And then I can deal with the kid in the back seat that just spilled something. It’s a grown-up timeout.”

Bigley also keeps busy as an owner of two businesses on Front St., S.W.A.G.G. and P.R.I.D.E. Dojo and Training Center, where she is a tai chi practitioner and offers classes. Bigley refers to the art of tai chi as “meditation in motion.”

“I think the word ‘meditation’ scares some people,” she said. “A lot of people get caught up in the ‘om’ sound. They think you have to change the way you dress and your religion.

“It really is just about getting your body to drop down a couple notches, calming and reducing your heart rate.”

Meditation can be practiced anywhere, according to Bigley, and the most basic technique is to take at least five deep, calming breaths.

“Five to 10 deep breaths will affect your heart rate, begin to slow it down, and when your heart rate responds, your nervous system will start to respond as well,” she said.

Miriam Keith, consumer support coordinator for the Washington County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board, recommends meditation for the psychological benefits.

“There are a lot of different names for meditation, but they all have four things in common: You need a quiet place, a comfortable position, something to focus on – a sound or a visual image – and poised awareness,” she said. “Poised awareness is when the amount of relaxation and alertness are perfectly balanced, and you can keep yourself from falling asleep.”

Meditation can be practiced most anywhere at anytime, however, Keith says some studies suggest the most benefit comes from 10- to 20-minute sessions, twice a day, usually morning and evening.

“Meditation has been shown to be really effective in decreasing mental illness,” she said. “It really does have a profound effect on the brain.”

[via Marietta Times]
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Meditation in motion

The Jakarta Post: Say hello to feeling calm, refreshed and energized. With tai chi, there’s no sweating or panting, but you’ll achieve vibrant health anyway.

The term “tai chi” probably evokes an image of a group of senior citizens practicing slow motion exercises in a park in the morning. Although there’s nothing wrong with that impression, there is actually plenty more about tai chi that might mean you find it is right for you.

So, what’s really interesting about tai chi, which offers benefits for people of all ages?

Described as meditation in motion, this ancient Chinese martial art is believed to be able to connect the mind and body. By promoting serenity through its flowing graceful movements, tai chi can help reduce the stress of today’s busy lifestyles and improve overall health.

How? By promoting the circulation of life energy (or chi) within our body.

“Tai chi is an art of internal power,” says Master Handaka Tania of Alam Semesta Hermitage. “Internal power is the power from within us that can be trained for the purposes of health and self-defense.”

Some people, Handaka says, often mistake internal power for something mystical, while the truth is, “mystical power comes from outside of our body, not inside”. Thus, he adds, tai chi has nothing to do with the supernatural.

Read the rest of this article…

According to Handaka, tai chi – which means “the ultimate” – has had a presence in Indonesia for a long time. However, as people didn’t talk about it openly, it became exclusive to certain groups only.

But later, when word did begin to spread and tai chi began to appear in the media, it gained increasing interest.

In Jakarta, tai chi started to gain popularity in the 1980s. Driving its popularity was a number of medical studies finding the health benefits of tai chi, which include its ability to promote balance and flexibility, reduce anxiety and depression, improve sleep quality and relieve chronic pain.

With millions of people across the globe turning to tai chi, Handaka says that even young people now are interested in practicing tai chi, which, he says, is more than just a sequence of physical movements.

“Tai chi is meditation in movement because it trains our inner peace and consciousness – the basic aspects in meditation,” the 63-year-old reveals.

How it promotes inner peace and consciousness can be seen from its basic attitude of focusing on slow movements and abdominal breathing. This combination creates a state of relaxation and calm. Stress, tension and anxiety melt away as practitioners focus on the present.

“Just like meditation, tai chi is about being here and now,” says Handaka, who has been training in tai chi since the 1970s. “And because the movements are graceful and slow, we can sense them deeply.”
This, in return, “trains our consciousness”, he adds.

Tai chi, Handaka says, is an exercise that requires no strenuous exertion: There are no jumps, or running. “It’s about loosening our body.”

In tai chi, the feet are always rooted on the earth, as the torso and arms make graceful, conscious and sequenced movements that take on the form of physical poetry. Each posture flows into the next without pausing, and engagement of the mind is essential.

“We have to be relaxed and make movements using our mind, not muscles,” Handaka explains.
The notion of tai chi as a martial art, he adds, lies in the belief that to increase our power we have to loosen our body. This, of course, contradicts the conventional wisdom that emphasizes the use of bulky muscles to increase power.

“Loosening our body doesn’t mean that we surrender. Rather, it’s about thinking clearly and feeling stronger,” he says.

“If we let our body relax, we can absorb our opponent’s power, then use it to bring that person down.”

Tai chi has hundreds of possible movements and positions. Most modern styles of tai chi trace their development to at least one of the five traditional schools: Chen, Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu and Sun. While the image of tai chi today is typified by remarkably slow movements, many tai chi styles, including Yang, Wu and Chen, have secondary forms performed at a faster pace. Some traditional schools of tai chi teach partner exercises known as pushing hands.

The intensity of tai chi varies somewhat depending on the style practiced. For instance, some styles of tai chi are more fast-paced than others. However, most forms are gentle and suitable for everyone. And they all include rhythmic patterns of movement that are coordinated with breathing.

Graceful and slow: People practice tai chi in Jakarta, where the exercise has been popular since the 1980s. JP/P.J. LeoGraceful and slow: People practice tai chi in Jakarta, where the exercise has been popular since the 1980s. JP/P.J. Leo

“There are many styles in tai chi, but actually, all of them have the same principles, including in basic stances and philosophy,” Handaka says, adding that “what makes the styles different is the sequence of movements”.

Although the many styles of tai chi vary, enthusiasts agree that all styles are beneficial, especially in helping their overall health. Because tai chi is generally safe for people of all ages and levels of fitness, the elderly may find tai chi appealing — thanks to the low-impact movements that put minimal stress on muscles and joints.

If anyone agrees with this, it is Hiang Marahimin. The 68-year-old says tai chi fits her preference for physical exercise that isn’t too demanding.

“Basically, I don’t like hard sports that are competitive and make me sweat a lot,” says the senior editor of Nirmala magazine. “I used to love dancing, too, so the first time I saw [images of] tai chi in a magazine, I thought it was very interesting.”

But the relaxing and graceful movements in tai chi weren’t all that motivated her to practice tai chi. For a woman at her age, she says, health problems were behind her decision to take up the practice.

“Because as I got older, I often suffered from hip pain. Whenever I stood up after sitting for a long time, I would feel that pain,” Hiang says.

After practicing tai chi for almost two months, however, “I didn’t feel that pain anymore”.

What makes her even happier is that tai chi has solved her problem with acute insomnia.

“I used to have sleeping disorder; once I couldn’t sleep for three days in a row,” Hiang says. “I went to a doctor, who prescribed me some supplements. [The supplements] worked and helped me to sleep.

“But of course, I thought I didn’t want to rely on some pills,” she adds.

So she signed up for a tai chi class with Handaka, and found herself no longer lying awake at night.
“Now I can really sleep well,” she says. “Before, even if I took those pills, I would wake up after midnight. But these days, I sleep like a log until morning.”

Amazed by the changes in her health, Hiang now practices tai chi at her home or office at least twice a day, in addition to her weekly class with Handaka.

“I’m so surprised with my [health] progress,” she says. “I asked [my] master and he explained to me that tai chi has helped improve my blood circulation.”

Another tai chi devotee, Indra Gunawan, says tai chi has given him a fresher body and a new paradigm for understanding martial arts.

“I used to think that martial arts were all about violence, power and speed,” says the 31-year-old accountant who has been practicing tai chi for almost four years. “But after learning tai chi, I realized that we don’t need that much power to bring down our opponents.”

Indra says that he used to consider tai chi rather unexciting.

“At first, I thought tai chi was something boring. Its movements seemed powerless to me,” he says. After some time, however, “I came to feel tai chi is different. When practicing it, I feel like there’s a strange kind of power flowing within my body.”

Admitting his body isn’t “that big”, Indra says that in the past, he knew he would lose if he had to face a larger opponent.

“But after I had the chance to learn tai chi, I got amazed by how we could actually bring down an opponent without really using our power.”

Anything else?

“My body feels fresher after practicing tai chi; I don’t get tired easily,” Indra says.

Indra’s testimony is consistent with Handaka’s claims.

“Usually, after practicing regular exercise, you feel tired,” he says. “But with tai chi, it’s like your energy is recharged. You won’t feel tired; instead, you feel more energized.”

Although tai chi doesn’t promise to burn calories like aerobics or other high-impact cardiovascular exercises do, it offers something else, as Handaka points out: “Tai chi promotes your longevity.”

So, ready to meditate in motion?

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