February is recognized as American Heart Month, which is meant to raise awareness and encourage prevention of the leading cause of death for both men and women: Heart Disease. Making sound nutritional choices, such as reducing sodium, processed foods, sugar, and saturated fat intake, and eliminating trans fats altogether have remained the groundwork for a healthier heart and circulatory system.
Many of us believe that we have to engage in heart-pumping, hard-sweating, and heavy-breathing aerobics to improve our health. But, many medical and fitness professionals have recognized that the mellow martial art of tai chi can be a very effective natural treatment and prevention method for most chronic conditions, including heart disease. Though the practice was only relatively recently popularized in the US, tai chi has been around for thousands of years, and is used extensively in Traditional Chinese medicine.
What is tai chi? It literally means “Supreme Ultimate” and is a shortened version of tai chi chuan or taijii quan. It is an internal Chinese martial arts practice for better cultivation of our qi, or life force energy, which when flowing smoothly provides powerful health benefits by integration of our mind, body, and breath. Meditation is part of this practice. Even as a slow, gentle art, it still addresses many key components of fitness including muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and cardio-respiratory (heart and lung) conditioning.
Tai chi can be done by anyone, at any age, standing or seated. A variety of tai chi programs exist, with some specifically designed to address heart health. There are also tai chi programs offered for specialty populations like veterans and seniors.
If you are new to tai chi and want to see what a practice might look like, check out some beginners’ videos. There may be some DVDs available at your local libraries as well. If you prefer to practice with others, look for tai chi classes within your community. Locally in the Tampa Bay area, tai chi classes are offered by the USF Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Several Hillsborough County recreation centers also offer classes on a rotating schedule. Contact your local community center to see what classes are available in your area. Empower yourself with this soothing medicine in motion—your heart will thank you!