Tai Chi Exercises for Seniors

Tai Chi Exercises for Seniors: Best Warm-Up, Seated & Balance Tai Chi for the Elderly

By Maurice

If you’re not familiar with tai chi, you might not realize how beneficial it can be for seniors. While it’s true that tai chi has its roots in martial arts, most people who practice it today aren’t looking for a fight. They’re taking advantage of what the discipline has to offer through slow movement and controlled breathing.

Please click the button below to download a free PDF of the exercises in this article:

Keep in Mind:

Before starting any new exercise(s), we strongly recommend you follow the advice of the National Institute on Aging and consult your doctor.  

What Are Tai Chi Exercises for Seniors?

There are several styles of tai chi. Some call for slow motions and others for fast. Some emphasize tiny movements and others focus on kicking and punching. The Yang style is the most popular; it emphasizes graceful motion and relaxation, which makes it ideal for beginners and for seniors.

The most useful tai chi exercises for seniors are the ones that are gentle, low-impact, self-paced and non-competitive. Sometimes they’re based on more difficult tai chi figures but are modified to require less balance and range of motion. Many are adapted so that they can be done in a chair.

What are the Benefits of Tai Chi Exercises for Seniors?

A big benefit of tai chi comes from the fact that it’s easy and comfortable to do. You don’t have to grit your teeth or psyche yourself up to begin a tai chi routine; you can just ease into it. Tai chi can be done solo or with a group. Just getting started and doing a few movements can relax you, make you feel better and lower your stress level.

But the benefits don’t stop there! Tai chi has also been shown to:

  • Improve sleep
  • Promote weight loss even without other changes in routine
  • Improve memory and cognitive skills
  • Improve balance and reduce the risk of falling
  • Reduce arthritis pain

What a great package of health benefits for older adults! All of us want these things regardless of our age.

Best Tai Chi Exercises for Seniors

There are hundreds of tai chi exercises with nearly endless variations. Here are 12 that will give you an introduction to tai chi. In general, these figures should be done smoothly, with attention to breathing and with the body relaxed. Don’t pause between repetitions but let one flow into the next.

Tai Chi Warm Up Exercises for Seniors

Sometimes the hardest part of a workout is getting started. But tai chi is not a workout in the usual sense. These warm-up exercises feel so good and natural they almost beckon you. Once you’ve started, it’s a cinch to keep going and do an entire routine. Tai chi exercises not only feel good when you’re done, they feel good while you’re doing them!

1. Waist Loosening

Here’s an easy one to get started.

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart.
  • Let your arms hang loose by your side.
  • Rotate your right hip forward and your left hip back. Remember, keep the motions and repetitions continuous.
  • Now go in the opposite direction, left hip forward.
  • Your dangling arms will flap against your sides. It feels like an odd, slow version of “doing the twist.”
  • Continue for up to two minutes, or until you feel warmed up.

If you like, speed it up as you go. As an option, you can exaggerate the movement of the neck and shoulders.

2. Torso Twists

Like Waist Loosening, this is a twisting motion. However, this time you’re going to hold your hips relatively rigid and move your upper body.

  • Stand with your legs slightly more than hip width apart.
  • Put your hands on your hips.
  • Inhale and lengthen your spine.
  • Exhale and twist your torso to the left. Your hips can move a little, but only a little. Keep your knees above your ankles. Let the knees bend a little but don’t let them twist or bend unevenly.
  • Twist back to the right. Keep your movement in time with your breathing.
  • Repeat to each side 5-10 times.

3. Leg Warm Up

Here’s another easy one. Don’t worry if these seem too easy; that’s OK with Tai Chi. We’re working the way the body naturally wants to move.

  • Stand with your legs slightly more than hip width apart.
  • Put your hands on your hips or let them hang by your side. Or you can put both hands on the back of a chair.
  • Shift your body weight to your left leg. The motion should be slow, inch by inch, and always under control.
  • With all your weight on your left leg, inhale.
  • Exhale and gradually shift to your right leg.
  • Repeat 5-10 times.

4. Touch the Sky

This is one of many Tai Chi exercises that can be done either standing or in a chair.

  • Stand up or sit up straight.
  • Hold your hands at waist level with palms up and fingertips pointed toward each other. If you’re sitting you may rest them in your lap this way.
  • As you inhale slowly, lift your hands to the level of your chest, extend them with your palms outward and raise them above your head.
  • Don’t straighten them all the way. Keep a little bend in your elbows.
  • Exhale slowly, relax your arms, lower them to your side, then bring them back to the starting position.
  • Repeat 5-10 times.

Tai Chi Chair Exercises for Seniors

Just about everyone can practice tai chi. You don’t even have to stand up! Here are five routines that can be done either in an armless chair or standing.

5. Broadening the Chest

  • Sit (or stand) straight with your feet shoulder width apart.
  • Let your arms hang by your side.
  • Inhale and extend your arms straight in front of you at about shoulder level.
  • Exhale and let your shoulders relax.
  • Face your palms toward each other, inhale, and open your arms wide as if inviting someone for a hug. Again, let your shoulders relax.
  • Exhale as you bring your hands back to center then lower them to your sides.
  • Repeat 5-10 times.

6. Holding the Ball

You can do this either with or without a ball. Use one about the size of a volleyball, or position your arms as if you’re holding one.

  • Sit straight and hold the ball, real or imaginary, out in front of you, with your elbows at about 90 degrees.
  • Turn from the waist and move the “ball” to the left. Rotate your hands so your left hand is on top and at about shoulder height (or as high as is comfortable). Turn your head to follow the ball with your eyes
  • Move back through the starting position and move the ball to the right.
  • Repeat 5-10 times.

7. Flying Like a Wild Goose

One fun thing about tai chi is the names of some positions.

  • Sit with your feet shoulder width apart and your arms at your side, palms facing in, fingers slightly curled.
  • Shift forward onto the balls of your feet.
  • Inhale and lift your arms away from your side. Straighten your spine as you go. If you can, lift the arms over your head until your wrists face away from your body. If that’s uncomfortably far, go only as high as you can. During the motion, extend your wrists and spread your fingers.
  • Let your body sink into the chair as you exhale and return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 5-10 times.
  • (Optional: imagine that you really are a flying goose.)

8. Scooping from the Sea

  • Sit in a chair.
  • Bend forward over your left knee with your weight slightly shifted left.
  • Bring your arms beyond the left knee with the wrists crossed and the palms facing up.
  • Inhale as you bring your arms up, separate them and move your weight to the right.
  • Bring your arms as high as is comfortable with palms facing back. Imagine you’re tossing that seawater behind you.
  • Exhale as you bring your arms back down to the crossed-wrists position over the right knee.
  • Repeat about 5 times over each knee.

Tai Chi Balance Exercises for Elderly

All tai chi exercises are balance exercises, but here are four that focus on stabilizing your core as the rest of the body is moving.

9. Dancing with the Rainbow

  • Stand up straight.
  • Shift your weight to the right.
  • As you inhale, lift your right arm overhead with the elbow bent and extend your left arm. You’ll somewhat resemble “I’m a little teapot.”
  • Exhale, raise both hands overhead and shift your weight back to the center.
  • Shift your weight to the left.
  • Inhale and form a teapot pointing the opposite way.
  • Repeat about 5 times on each side.

10. Windmill

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
  • Let your arms hang by your sides and relax your shoulders.
  • Swing your arms out in front so your palms face your body and your fingers point down.
  • Inhale and raise your arms. Bring them out slightly to the left in a windmilling motion and bring them back to center as your raise them directly over your head.
  • Exhale and lower then. Windmill toward the right as you return to the starting position.
  • On the next repetition, go up to the right and come down to the left.
  • Do about 5 reps on each.

Windmill to the side only as far as you can go while maintaining good central balance. It’s OK to raise your arms straight up and not windmill at all.

11. Shooting the Bow

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and arms at the sides.
  • Relax. Let your back round and your knees bend slightly.
  • Make fists in front of your face with your fingers facing you and the hands touching.
  • Inhale, rotate your waist to the left and extend your left hand. Open the fist so the palm faces outward and leave the elbow slightly bent.
  • Pull back with your right fist as if drawing a bow.
  • Exhale and return to the starting position.
  • Alternate sides. Do 5-10 reps on each side.

12. Penetrating Heaven and Earth

In addition to being a balance exercise, this also helps to stretch the shoulders.

  • Stand with your feet hip width apart and your arms by your sides.
  • Inhale and lift your hands to chest height. Rotate the hands so the palms are up and the fingers face each other.
  • Relax and exhale.
  • As you inhale, separate the arms. Lift your right arm palm up over your head and put your left palm down near your hip.
  • Inhale and bring them back to their former position at chest height.
  • Repeat with the left arm rising and the right falling.
  • Repeat 5-10 times on each side.

Conclusion

Some of these tai chi exercises don’t seem like much of a workout. You may not sweat and strain during your session. Yet at the end you’re going to feel good. Your body will let you enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from using it the way it wants to be used.

That’s tai chi. It takes the natural movements of the body and formalizes them into exercises that make you do just a little more. It helps you become aware of and improve your balance. With tai chi, you can learn a few moves in a short time and do them without difficulty. You can also spend years exploring all the variations and pushing yourself further.

Tai chi is a great discipline for older adults of all fitness levels. Just remember the basic principles of smooth movement and controlled breathing, and you’ll have discovered a practice that will improve your health, your balance, your well-being and your cognition.


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