When we speak of health, it’s common to think primarily of physical health. However, mental and emotional disorders can have a negative impact on quality of life, making it difficult to enjoy daily life. Positive mental and emotional health allows us to be productive, better handle daily stress and reach our full potential. In addition to seeking professional help when needed, the following tips are recommended for maintaining mental health:
- Be physically active
- Develop coping skills
- Stay positive
- Connect with others
- Get adequate sleep
With its holistic approach, tai chi is an excellent vehicle for achieving the five points noted above as a way to improve or maintain mind and body fitness. In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week on October 2-8th, let’s explore five ways tai chi boosts mental health.
Tai Chi is a Low-Impact Workout That Alleviates Stress
Tai chi, considered meditation in motion, strengthens the connection between the mind and body with its flowing sequences of focused, deliberate movements. This gentle, low-impact exercise relaxes the mind and alleviates stress.
Participants in a 2008 research clinical trial experienced improvement in symptoms of depression after a 3-month tai chi intervention. In another earlier trial, participants who took tai chi for 45 minutes, three times a week, over 12 weeks also experienced a reduction in depression symptoms.
A variety of studies have discovered that tai chi:
- Reduces anxiety
- Improves depression
- Increases endorphins
- Alleviates stress
- Improves mood
- Increases self-esteem
- Boosts cognitive functioning
Tai chi provides an effective workout for the body and the mind. Recalling the sequences of movements improves memory. Additionally, research clinical trials have demonstrated tai chi’s positive impact on cognitive abilities.
Tai Chi is an Excellent Stress Management Tool
Tai chi improves our psychological well-being and slows the negative impact stress has on our autoimmune systems. It also slows stress-induced cellular aging.
Two advanced principles of Tai Chi deal with keeping a calm heart and clear mind. We learn to listen to the body, making adjustments to achieve balance. This keeps us in the present, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Negative thoughts and actions can have a negative physiological effect. Tai chi brings our minds and bodies in tune. We become more alert to negative emotions and learn to respond to them in a way that has a positive impact.
The mind/body awareness developed through tai chi practice helps to build a positive outlook, an essential component for maintaining or improving mental health.
Tai Chi Increases Mental Resilience & Boosts Positive Outlook
We all encounter stress and frustration. The manner in which we respond to stress can either diffuse it or have a negative impact on our mental and physical health. The fundamental principles of tai chi teach us to maintain balance and resilience. Physical resilience, or elasticity, is the ability to spring back into shape after being bent or stretched. Mental resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from hardships.
Tai chi helps us develop physical elasticity. With continued practice, this essential principle manifests itself in our lives in a manner which helps us cope with adverse circumstances while maintaining emotional balance and a positive outlook.
Tai chi alone offers many physical and mental health benefits. Additionally, a study of the impact of tai chi on depressed older adults showed that, when used in conjunction with pharmacological treatment, tai chi can boost resilience, energy, memory retention, executive function and quality of life. Tai chi offers a critical option for depressed older adults as less than one-third of these adults will improve with pharmacological treatments alone.
Tai Chi Improves Sleep Quality–an Important Component of Mental Health
Getting an adequate amount of sleep each night is another crucial component of maintaining good mental health. Studies indicate that trouble sleeping not only increases the risk of developing psychiatric disorders in children and adults, it may directly contribute to the development of certain psychiatric disorders. Therefore, it is essential to get an adequate amount of sleep. Tai chi has been shown to improve sleep quality.
A six-month research trial determined that older adults who practiced tai chi experienced significant improvement in their sleep quality and cognitive performance. In another study, one group of participants performed 20 tai chi moves for 25 weeks while the remaining participants took classes on healthier living, including practices conducive to better sleep. At the conclusion of the trial, the tai chi group experienced better sleep quality—taking less time to doze off and experiencing less disruptions once they fell asleep.
Tai Chi Helps Us Connect with Others and Be More Social
Many older adults struggle with loneliness and depression. Without family or close family ties, they may begin to isolate themselves—compounding feelings of depression. Loneliness isn’t a mere inconvenience; it’s a physical and mental health issue that is growing at an alarming rate. The quality and amount of social connection we have can be linked to mental health and physical wellness.
Social connections aren’t a luxury. Such connections are a necessary component of good mental, emotional and physical health. Connecting with others in a common activity provides a social boost for socially-isolated individuals.
The social aspect of tai chi class helps individuals who might otherwise remain socially isolated to better manage depression. Students who come to class several times each week develop friendships and enjoy a sense of accomplishment as they reach their individual fitness goals.
Tai chi is a holistic, low-impact exercise that packs a myriad of physical and mental health benefits into its sequences of gentle, flowing movements. Tai chi is an effective stress-management tool that develops mind/body awareness. A continued tai chi practice builds resilience, helping us stay positive. Those who practice tai chi experience better sleep quality. Tai chi classes provide an opportunity to connect with others in a shared activity—staving off the damaging effects of loneliness.
Surprised by the proven benefits of this gentle exercise? Try tai chi for yourself. This multifunctional workout is ideal for those with limited time. Register for a class and discover how tai chi exercises both body and mind.