Study finds tai chi more effective than weight training and cardio

Reporter: Veronica Marshall Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
tai chi instructor
Credit: WINK News

When it comes to maintaining good cholesterol levels, a study finds tai chi more effective than weight training and cardio.

WINK News speaks to a tai chi student and an instructor about why this exercise is so beneficial.

Stephen Piccone turned to tai chi for his health. “The aging body is taking its toll with the arthritis in my joints, pain, discomfort, things like that,” said Piccone.

Now, years later, this gentle art has become part of his daily life.

“Before I walk, I shift my weight here and I step more gently,” Piccone said. “And it’s a subconscious thing now.”

Piccone has become a full-fledged student of tai chi.

“With the movement being so gentle and taking your time before you do the next movement, the core is really holding you stable,” he said.

Danling Neilson is a Level III tai chi instructor. “Your mind is calm, peaceful. Let the core finish the movement. Let the hip help the body transfer the weight,” Neilson said.

Neilson says tai chi can also help with weight loss. “They lose weight from inside to outside. Maybe it takes a little time, but when you lose the weight, you’re very, very stable,” Neilson said. “Tai Chi can also help you lose weight because the core muscle is non-stop working.”

Dr. Michael Irwin is the director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA. “When you’re engaging those large muscle groups, you’re actually engaging in a considerable amount of physical activity,” Irwin said.

Dr. Irwin studies the health benefits of tai chi. One of his last studies followed more than 500 adults, all aged 50 and older, for 38 weeks.

“It turns out that waist circumference, the actual accumulation of abdominal fat, is the one factor that’s most highly related to adverse outcomes, particularly in older adults, like cardiovascular disease, and also certain cancers,” Irwin said.

“The purpose of this study was to evaluate what extent Tai Chi or physical activity could decrease waist circumference or abdominal obesity,” said Dr. Irwin.

The participants in this study were split into three groups: the first with no intervention, the second group did weight training and aerobic exercise and the third group did tai chi.

The conventional exercise group and the tai chi group both reduced their waist sizes and lost weight.

But, when it comes to maintaining HDL or “good” cholesterol levels, tai chi performed the best. Dr. Irwin says it’s critical for older adults struggling with central obesity.

“The fact that Tai Chi is as effective and in many cases better on some of these outcomes is, I think, really important,” said Dr. Irwin.

Many older adults don’t have the same mobility as younger people and that may make it more difficult for them to lose weight.

“They don’t have their mobility, and they can’t achieve the levels of aerobic activity necessary to reduce abdominal obesity,” said Irwin.

“We need to have interventions that can be effectively employed on a day to day basis that are really easy to do and easy to accommodate a once-daily routine. And that’s what Tai Chi is,” Dr. Irwin said.

The best part about tai chi is, it’s accessible and low-impact, according to instructor Neilson. “If you can walk, you can do Tai Chi,” Neilson said.

“When I look in the mirror now, I’m not concerned with what the outside looks like anymore. Because the inside is feeling great,” Piccone said.

“This is not a fix like you go to the doctor and you get a pill, and you take it and the pill does it for you. Tai Chi is you,” said Piccone.

Researchers focused on reducing older adults’ waistlines because abdominal fat is highly related to health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

Ideally, you should practice tai chi 20-30 minutes per day.

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