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As we age, the sad truth is that the majority of folks over the age of 60 are sedentary. (1) While there are a handful of ways to define ‘sedentary,’ here are few disturbing facts:
- Almost 60% of older adults reported sitting for more than 4 hours per day. (1)
- 65% of older adults sit in front of a screen for more than 3 hours daily. (1)
- Over 55% older adults report watching more than 2 hours of TV daily. (1)
- In a small survey, it was found that 67% of the older population were sedentary for more than 8.5 hours daily. (1)
I would venture a guess that the vast majority of these folks know that not exercising is unhealthy for them and that they would be healthier if they could exercise more. In my practice, the 2 most common reasons why folks do not exercise as they age are fatigue and pain.
A new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine may give to hope to those folks who find it painful to move their bodies, or those who just don’t have the energy to get up and go.
The researchers studied 1500 people who practiced the ancient Chinese art of Tai Chi – which is a very simple, mindful, slow and flowing form of exercise. It is quite relaxing, and even those who cannot find the energy or are too stiff for conventional exercise can typically do it.
The study group who averaged between 50 and 70 years of age had one of the following chronic conditions: cancer, heart failure, osteoarthritis or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). After 12 weeks of one hour Tai Chi sessions 2 or 3 times per week, they saw trends of improvement in physical capacity or muscle strength. (2)
While this is great news for our rising elderly population, many middle-aged folks also complain of chronic conditions that keep them from exercising regularly. In a Canadian study of 320 men and 660 women, 9 out of 10 had more than one chronic health condition that keep them from regular exercise. (3) Surprisingly, in the 18-44 year old group, 70% had two or more chronic health conditions, and 98% of those over 65 had two or more chronic health conditions. (3) Tai Chi may offer an effortless and painless way for folks with chronic concerns to start reaping the benefits of moving their body.
One of the tenets of Tai Chi is deep nasal breathing during the practice. This is how the “chi” or “prana,” as it is called in Ayurveda, is moved through the body. You may get some of the Tai Chi benefits simply from walking with your mouth closed and breathing deeply in and out through your nose as you walk.
Try This Nasal Breathing “Chi” Moving Exercise
Go for a walk and breathe comfortably in and out through your nose as you walk. Count how many steps you take for each long slow nasal in-breath and out-breath. As you become a better nose breather (chi or prana mover), keep trying to take more steps per each breath. Your first goal is 10 steps during each inhale and 10 steps during each exhale. As you get really good at this, without straining, try to increase the steps per breath to 20 on the inhale and 20 on the exhale.
Have you ever tried Tai Chi? What is your experience?
- FortinM, BravoG, HudonC, et al. Prevalence of multimorbidity among adults seen in family practice. Ann Fam Med 2005;3:223–8. doi:10.1370/afm.272