Renew’s happiness challenge: Give tai chi a try

This ancient practice can help you find and keep your peace — and we’re showing you how it’s done in Day 4 of the Feel Happier & Healthier in 7 Days challenge

Leslie Goldman
Woman in tai chi class

The Feel Happier & Healthier in 7 Days challenge is the newest challenge from Renew by UnitedHealthcare® to help inspire you to take charge of your well-being every day. All week, we’re sharing fun and easy activities to help you strengthen your body, refresh your spirit and connect with the things you love. After all, when you make your own happiness a priority, it’s a win for your overall health.

 

Walking may arguably be the most widely recommended form of exercise. But there’s a reason the American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health all robustly encourage tai chi for older adults: It delivers head-to-toe benefits.

Here are just a few of the ways tai chi has been shown to be effective:

  • It helps reduce the risk of falls (the leading cause of injury-related deaths among people over 65)
  • It may help relieve symptoms of arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure
  • It helps support the immune system
  • It helps boost memory and cognitive function
  • It helps build strength, flexibility and coordination

The cherry on top? Tai chi, which is practiced by nearly 4 million Americans, is like a big, healing deep breath for the soul. A Tufts University review of 40 studies found that people who regularly practice tai chi experience lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression, compared to those who do not practice. Increased self-esteem and an improved outlook are also part of the package.

No wonder tai chi has been called “meditation in motion,” says Peter M. Wayne, Ph.D., director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine jointly based at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School and author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi.

“With tai chi, there is a great emphasis on mental focus, paying attention to movements, and sensory awareness,” says Wayne. “You’re constantly noticing where your limbs and joints are, how they’re being coordinated. If you’re really focusing on those things, you can’t be thinking about your taxes or about what someone said to you yesterday. It brings you into the moment and focuses your attention.”

How tai chi helps boost your emotional well-being

As anyone who’s ever spotted a group practicing tai chi in a park knows, the ancient Chinese martial art involves a series of graceful, almost slow-motion moves. Tai chi was born from the belief that slow, continuous movement, blended with a very intentional focus on mental, physical and emotional balance, can enhance energy and wellness, according to Kathleen Cusick, an instructor at Magic Tortoise Taijiquan School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

“Tai chi integrates natural, easy exercise with a joyful reflective approach to daily life,” says Cusick.

Not only does this gentle-on-the-joints practice build strength, flexibility and physical stability, it helps strengthen your emotional resiliency, adds Wayne. It does this through its focus on slow breathing and mental imagery, which help you to physically and mentally let go. Many of the movements are drawn from and inspired by nature. And you’re encouraged to imagine connecting yourself to nature’s healing energy.

Tai chi (also called tai chi chuan) is based on the idea that we all have energy flowing though us called qi (pronounced “chee”). When this energy becomes blocked, it creates pain or dysfunction. But when it flows freely, it supports physical and emotional health and wellness. Tai chi is one way to unblock stagnant qi, says Wayne. That’s where tai chi’s reputation for enhancing emotional health comes from, he adds.

Beginner tai chi moves to try

Today’s challenge is to try an easy tai chi movement. The video below shows you one of Cusick’s favorites: Crane Breathing. As a bonus: The Feel Happier & Healthier in 7 Days Activity Guide includes two additional tai chi moves. Download your copy here

You don’t need any special equipment, although supportive shoes and loose-fitting clothes are recommended. As you try them, think about taking your time, breathing slowly and moving gently.

 

 

 

Getting comfortable with these foundational moves can be the beginning of a new, energizing healthy habit, says Cusick. For additional tai chi exercises, browse the options in Renew’s library of online workouts. To access them, sign in to your plan website and go to Health & Wellness. Then find Workout Videos in the Quick Links section.

Cusick also notes that tai chi can be a good way to connect with others. “Tai chi can be a personal practice, but it’s also fun to do in a class setting and also to think of yourself as a community,” she says.

Get moving with Renew Active®  

A free gym membership, access to thousands of workout videos with Fitbit® Premium and an online brain health program from AARP® Staying Sharp® — Renew Active has something for every fitness level. Best of all, it’s included with most UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage plans. Sign in to your plan website and go to Health & Wellness. Then look for Renew Active to get started and access your confirmation code. Your Renew Active Confirmation Code will start with a letter, followed by 9 digits. Not a member? Learn more here.

 

Keep up with the challenge: 

Download your Feel Happier & Healthier in 7 Days Activity Guide  

Day 1: Commit to your mental well-being 

Day 2: Silence your inner critic 

Day 3: Rediscover the joy of nature 

 

Renew Active® includes a standard fitness membership. The information provided through Renew Active is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Consult your doctor prior to beginning an exercise program or making changes to your lifestyle or health care routine. The Renew Active program varies by plan/area. Access to gym and fitness location network may vary by location and plan.