If you’re looking to lose weight and you’re wondering if Tai Chi might be the right way to start exercising, the answer is an absolute and definitive yes! Wondering why and how? Read on!
How does Tai Chi help you lose weight? Tai Chi helps you lose weight as a simple and safe way of getting exercise. No matter how much weight you need to lose, Tai Chi slowly burns calories and fat without any physical risk. Tai Chi also brings in a mental discipline that helps in tackling sleeping and eating habits, both essential for weight loss.
Let’s take a look at all the wonderful health benefits of Tai Chi including, of course, weight loss.
What Is Tai Chi Exactly?
Tai Chi is a Chinese Martial art. It has nothing to do with Qi Gong which is a practice based around the idea of a lifeforce “Qi” and, in fact, Tai Chi is short for T’ai chu chu’uan which means “the source of the fist” and that makes the martial potential of the art form clear.
It is a Chinese “internal” martial art which means that it is as much concerned with developing mental discipline as it is with the physical forms. It is also practiced in a relatively unhurried and precise manner, which means it is not immediately recognizable to observers as a martial art.
A Brief History of Tai Chi and its Health Benefits
Tai Chi is said to have arisen in the 12th century under the watchful eye of a Taoist monk called Zhang Sanfeng. Sadly, while many believe this narrative there’s no evidence that it’s actually true.
What is more likely is that the modern form of Tai Chi came about in the 17th century under the Chen family and was popularized by their pupil Yang Luchan.
It was only given the name of “Tai Chi” in the 19th century before that it appears to have had several possible names most of which relate to boxing (confirming its martial status) except for “shisan shi” which just means “the thirteen techniques” which is a reference to the “Thirteen postures of Tajiquan”.
There were, originally, many schools of Tai Chi and they can still be found around the world but in the 1950s the Chinese government sought to standardize the practice of Tai Chi and it is this unified form of Tai Chi that is now most commonly found in practice.
Philosophy Of Tai Chi
As a relative newcomer, Tai Chi is not bound up in heavy philosophy, unlike some martial arts. It does however make use of the concept of Yin and Yang, the idea of cosmological balance to emphasize its key idea that one must not use “hardness” to resist violence.
The thinking is that if you do use hardness, you risk not only harming your opponent but also yourself. Therefore, it is better to use softness, instead.
Then you move with the violent blow until such a point as it can be directed elsewhere or alternatively it simply runs out of steam.
Many people do not use Tai Chi to fight with, however, and only use it as a form of relaxing exercise – this gentle pursuit of Tai Chi is perfectly adequate if you are seeking to lose weight.
Health And Tai Chi
The health benefits of Tai Chi have been catalogued reasonably extensively and in addition to helping people lose weight it has been linked to benefits when tackling everything from Type 2 diabetes to osteoarthritis.
Both Diabetes Australia and the National Parkinson Foundation recommend the use of Tai Chi when trying to combat the symptoms of the respective diseases.
However, it is fair to say that research into alternative therapies such as Tai Chi is still in its infancy and while some benefits are conclusive, others might be subject to re-evaluation depending on future research.
This means that for the moment, health insurers are unlikely to pay for Tai Chi classes even if your physician should recommend the therapeutic use of Tai Chi. Fortunately, in most parts of the world – Tai Chi lessons are inexpensive and you should not worry that a lack of insurance will prevent you from taking part.
It is important that you receive instruction in Tai Chi as execution of the forms correctly is a key part of the practice – you cannot learn to do this by yourself without feedback from an observer.
Seated Tai Chi
It is reasonable to point out that many people may have mobility issues that will prevent them from undertaking traditional Tai Chi outdoors. In the case of those people who are overweight, this problem is likely to lessen after some weight has been lost.
The good news is that there is a form of Tai Chi known as “seated Tai Chi”. It is not the same practice as the martial art and the standing variant practiced by most people, but it offers a range of specially developed flowing movements that can offer similar benefits.
It is good for those who are overweight, the elderly and anyone else who cannot stand for long periods of time. If you wish to pursue seated Tai Chi, however, you will need to seek out an instructor that has trained in these techniques.
While this practice is relatively new there is some research which suggests that seated Tai Chi can help with physical and mental well-being and that participants have reported improvements in balance, posture, strength, flexibility, oxygen intake, blood pressure and weight loss.
How Does Tai Chi Help You Lose Weight?
Tai Chi is a form of exercise and any form of exercise will, assuming you eat a sensible diet, help you to lose weight. However, it appears that Tai Chi has some advantages over other forms of exercise and, in particular, it is a very easy form of exercise to take up if you have not exercised in a long time or are massively overweight because it is low impact in nature.
Let’s take a look at why Tai Chi might be the best choice to help you or someone you care for shed some excess pounds.
The Eight Active Ingredients Of Tai Chi
In his book, The Harvard Medical School to Tai Chi, Peter M Wayne PhD describes Tai Chi as having 8 active ingredients which combine to deliver the health benefits of the practice. They are:
- Awareness. This means taking a meditative (or mindful) approach to the way you do Tai Chi to be aware of how you move, how you breath, how your body is positioned, and the sensations within you. The purpose of this is to move in a way that is focused, and which delivers measurable benefits.
- Intention. This goes beyond awareness and moves into an expectation of your Tai Chi practice. If you want to use it to lose weight, for example, that should be intentional.
- Structural integration. That is Tai Chi works by integration the body’s different systems to provide a physically therapeutic benefit. By working in a “biomechanically efficient” manner, the forms trigger additional benefits across the entire body.
- Active relaxation. Tai Chi is all about the Yin and the Yang. While it is a form of active exercise it is also about finding a space of relaxation while you work out this allows the mind to be free to be aware and for the body to do what it does, naturally.
- Strengthening and flexibility. Tai Chi is an aerobic exercise and while it is not a heavily aerobic exercise, it provides a similar level of activity as walking at a moderate place. When done correctly, Tai Chi means less strain, more power and improvements in balance. In particular, it leads to development in the lower extremities and also, over time, improved bone strength.
- Better breathing. The more you breathe in the measured manner taught in Tai Chi the easier it is for the gas within your body to circulate and thus the easier it is for your body to burn fuel and to perform in an optimum manner.
- Social support. The support of others in a group can help establish habits and life anxiety and depression. Community is an essential part of human life and Tai Chi can support exercise with community.
- Spirituality. It depends on the school of Tai Chi as to the exact brand of spiritual development you’re likely to be exposed to, but the objective is to ensure that you are developing physically, mentally and spiritually.
Doctor Wayne says that it is the combination of these ingredients that makes Tai Chi an optimal exercise for health and, indeed, for weight loss. He feels that there are very few other forms of exercise that are so well integrated to deliver substantial benefits without more extreme levels of effort that may lead to injury.
Does Tai Chi Burn Calories?
Yes, in fact, even sitting on the sofa watching TV burns calories though, sadly, watching TV does not burn very many calories (some studies suggest TV watching uses less calories than sleeping does!).
Any form of exercise will increase your calorific burn and in the case of Tai Chi the number of calories burned will depend on:
- Your body mass – the more mass you have, the more calories you will burn. This is simply a matter of physics. Calories are fuel for the body. The bigger something is, the more fuel it takes to move it.
- Your metabolic rate – you can affect the metabolic rate through regular exercise and, in fact, people who exercise 3-5 times a week are likely to burn calories at a higher rate all the time and not just when the exercise
- Your level of intensity – there are different approaches to Tai Chi, those gently performing forms in the park of a morning are going to burn fewer calories than those practicing push-pull Tai Chi as a fighting art
- The ambient temperature – both hot weather and cold weather cause us to burn more calories. In the cold, we burn calories to heat our bodies up and in the warm, we burn calories to cool it down.
It is also possible that you can burn fewer or more calories depending on your mood, there was a study published in 2006 that demonstrated that being happy burns more calories than being sad.
Given all of these variables into how many calories you are likely to burn – it’s impossible for anyone to give you an exact number of calories that you’ll burn during Tai Chi but a reasonable range of expectation would be that you would burn between 236 and 345 calories an hour.
The only time you are likely to fall outside of this range is if your weight is far outside of the normal range for adults.
It is worth remembering, however, that if you do Tai Chi 3-5 times a week for 45 minutes at a time – you will raise your metabolic rate. That, in turn, will mean that you will burn more calories all of the time. Even while you sleep.
This is one of the main reasons that it’s a good idea to become consistent in your Tai Chi practice if you want to lose weight. You want to be able to burn more calories even when you’re not exercising.
Does Tai Chi Burn Fat?
Fat burning is a complicated thing in the human body and Tai Chi (along with all other forms of exercise) does not directly “burn fat”.
Fat burning takes place when your body experiences what is known as a “calorific deficit”. That’s what happens when you take in fewer calories in a day than your body needs to maintain its weight.
Tai Chi can help with this in two respects:
- You will burn more calories while you carry out Tai Chi practice
- If you practice on a regular basis, you will increase your metabolic burn rate and burn extra calories all day long
When You Won’t Lose Fat
What it cannot do, however, is control the number of calories that you are putting into your body. So, if you go to Tai Chi and then come home and eat 4 large pepperoni pizzas – it is unlikely you would burn any fat at all.
Well, the average man requires about 2,000 calories a day to maintain their weight and the average woman needs about 1,500 calories.
A large pepperoni pizza contains about 2,269 calories and 4 of them would mean consuming nearly 9,000 calories. That would mean you’d have eaten 7,000 calories more than a man needs to stay at the same weight and 7,500 more than a woman does. When you take in more calories than you use – you gain fat.
When You Will Lose Fat
If you want to lose fat, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. For every 3,500 calories under that number you eat – you will lose approximately 1 pound of fat.
Now, you cannot shed weight at a very rapid pace (because it’s dangerous and even if you do succeed – you will end up putting it back on at a very rapid rate too). So, you need to try and keep your calories under control without being too over the top about it.
The Formula For Weight Loss
Doctors recommend that to lose weight in a sustainable manner you should reduce your calorie intake by approximately 500 calories a day. That is, for a man you should eat 1,500 calories a day and for a woman about 1,000 calories day.
This will lead to weight loss of around 1lb a week (7 x 500 calories is 3,500 calories which equals 1lb of weight loss).
If you follow this plan and combine it with Tai Chi, you may find you lose weight a little faster and feel better about it.
Why Is Tai Chi An Optimal Way To Lose Weight?
Tai Chi is a low impact form of exercise that means it is well suited to anybody of any size and weight to take part. High impact exercises such as running or boxing, for example, are going to lead to large amounts of weight being placed on joints and this will cause damage to those joints.
While there is no reason that somebody of a healthy weight or just slightly overweight should not take part in these higher impact activities – in the first instance until a person loses enough weight, it would be better to take part in low impact activities. Other such activities include brisk walking and swimming which also minimize damage to the joints.
Other Related Health And Lifestyle Benefits Of Practicing Tai Chi And Losing Weight
If you are still searching for reasons to get involved in Tai Chi to lose weight, then it might be worth spending some time studying the benefits of losing that weight. Contrary to popular opinion, being overweight is unhealthy and can lead to premature death.
Losing weight is not always easy but any steps that you can take to move towards a healthy weight range are going to make life easier overall in the long term.
How Much Weight Do You Need To Lose To Feel Healthier?
WebMD points out that you don’t need to lose an enormous amount of weight to start feeling healthier.
In fact, they say that losing as little as 5% of your body weight can bring instant improvements in wellbeing and they recommend that if you are serious about weight loss – you talk to your physician to see what they think you should do.
The Main Health Benefits Of Losing Weight
There are many concrete benefits to losing weight using Tai Chi and as you can see, many of these benefits have already been scientifically proven to be linked to the practice of Tai Chi:
- A reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a weight-related issue. Whilst Type 1 diabetes is something that you cannot avoid (if you are prone to it), keeping your weight down means a much lower chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Given that Diabetes kills, this is a good thing. Tai Chi has been shown to reduce the progression of this deadly disease.
- A reduction in your blood pressure. Carrying excess weight forces the heart to work harder, that results in high blood pressure which is also potentially deadly. Tai Chi has been proven to reduce blood pressure.
- A lowering of cholesterol. While the issue of cholesterol is not quite so clear cut as it once was, Tai Chi and other forms of exercise have been demonstrated to help reduce “bad cholesterol” which is the kind that leads to health problems.
- A reduced risk of heart disease. Tai Chi has been proven to improve cardiovascular health in people who practice it. Not dying of heart disease is a big incentive to lose weight.
- A reduced risk of certain cancers. Not all cancers are linked to obesity but it is estimated that 7% of all cancer-related deaths are caused by obesity in the United States and 8% of all cancers are caused by excess body weight.
- An improvement in mobility. Carrying excess weight puts pressure on your joints and feet and can cause problems with mobility – when you lose weight these problems reverse.
- An improvement in joint pain. Removing weight from joints reduces the pain that you feel in the them.
- An improvement in blood sugar levels. As you might expect when working out your body is burning fuel this helps it to better regulate blood sugar levels (which are directly related to your chances of getting Type 2 Diabetes too).
- A reduced risk of stroke. The relationship between weight and strokes is proven. Strangely, those following a vegan diet may also be at a higher risk of stroke than those on an omnivorous one.
- Less back pain. Less weight on your back means less strain on your back and if you experience back pain, it can be relieved by losing weight.
- Improvement in osteoarthritis symptoms. It has been scientifically demonstrated that practicing Tai Chi can also lead to proven benefits with osteoarthritis symptoms.
- An improvement in sleep. Exercise, losing weight and Tai Chi have been linked to better quality sleep at night.
The Main Lifestyle Benefits From Losing Weight
There’s more to losing weight than just health benefits too. If you undertake Tai Chi to lose weight you should find there are lifestyle benefits including:
- A better social life. Tai Chi is a social activity by undertaking Tai Chi classes, you will meet a wide-range of people and come to enjoy their company.
- Higher levels of personal confidence. It may not be fair, but society often views those who are overweight with a certain amount of intolerance when people see you losing weight their positive feedback can really boost your confidence.
- You’ll get better sleep. As we’ve said, Tai Chi enhances sleep and your whole life will benefit from that.
- You will have more energy. Being overweight is exhausting, it’s like carrying around pound and pounds of stuff that you don’t need. When you’re not carrying it, your energy will seem boundless in comparison.
- You may have a better sex life. In both sexes a lack of good body image can be a passion killer and for men, erectile dysfunction is often linked to being overweight too.
- You will experience lower levels of stress. Exercise has been demonstrated to help release endorphins that will help you feel better and more alive each day, reducing stress into the bargain.
- You will experience a higher level of mood. That’s those endorphins at work again they’re proven to make us feel happy, naturally.
So, there you have it. It’s quite clear how Tai Chi can help you lose weight. Not only does it have the benefits of any exercise in that it helps you burn calories and fat – it’s the ideal place to begin with exercise as it has a very low impact on the body and you are unlikely to hurt or strain yourself.
It also has proven benefits over and above some other forms of exercise when it comes to specific benefits such as reducing the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes or osteoarthritis. It’s also a lot of fun and you will enjoy lifestyle benefits if you commit to Tai Chi as part of your weight loss program.