The search for wellness can mean many things to many people.  Wellness can be found in regular visits with good friends as much as it can be found in regular medical check-ups and tests.  Likewise, the concept of Wellness at Plymouth Harbor encompasses far more than strength-training facilities and health care.  Take, for example, the Tai Chi classes offered weekly.

One peaceful Tuesday afternoon recently, resident Fred Moffat parted the wild horse’s mane while Jeanne Gerry grasped the sparrow’s tail.  Maureen and Terry Aldrich waved their hands like clouds and stepped the monkey away.  These are the poetic phrases instructor Roseann Argenti, a master in Tai Chi, used to teach a short form to her class.  Progressing through a series of slow and deliberate motions named for animal actions—for example, “white crane spreads its wings” – the group was participating in a powerful low-impact exercise that originated in China as a martial art.

Tai Chi is often described as “meditation in motion” and valued as a mind-body practice that nourishes those who practice it physically, spiritually and emotionally.  Maureen Aldrich says she first tried it when travelling in China and has immensely enjoyed the class under Roseann’s guidance.  “She stretches us every time.  Not too much, just enough.”

Watching the class members flow through the sequence, you see deep breathing, focused gazes, but bodies that are relaxed with flexed knees.  What seems effortless does require and build core muscle strength.  It also improves balance, releases stress and flexes the brain “muscle” as well.

“A growing body of carefully conducted research is building a compelling case for Tai Chi as an adjunct to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age,” says Peter M. Wayne, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Tai Chi and Mind-Body Research Program at Harvard Medical School’s Osher Research Center.

Flexibility and Balance

A 2006 Stanford study showed that women practicing Tai Chi significantly boosted upper–body and lower-body flexibility as well as strength.  Coupled with the fact that Tai Chi trains the sense of proprioception, the ability to sense one’s body in space, as well as the muscles that can prevent falls, practitioners test for greater balance and reduced risk for falls.

Arthritis

In a 40-person study at Tufts University, an hour of Tai Chi twice a week for 12 weeks reduced pain and improved mood and physical functioning more than standard stretching exercises in people with severe knee osteoarthritis.

Bone Density

A review of six controlled studies indicates that Tai Chi may be a safe and effective way to maintain bone density in postmenopausal women.

Heart Health

A 53-person study at National Taiwan University found that a year of Tai Chi significantly boosted exercise capacity, lowered blood pressure, and improved levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, and C-reactive protein in people at high risk for heart disease.

In a 30-person pilot study at Harvard Medical School, 12 weeks of Tai Chi improved participants’ ability to walk and their quality of life.  It also reduced blood levels of B-type natriuretic protein, an indicator of heart failure.

A review of 26 studies reported that in 85% of trials, Tai Chi lowered blood pressure—with improvements ranging from 3 to 32 mm Hg in systolic pressure and from 2 to 18 mm Hg in diastolic pressure.

The Tai Chi classes represent just one thread in the entire tapestry of wellness opportunities available at Plymouth Harbor.  Sure, all of these health benefits can improve quality of life, but if you ask these Tai Chi students, they are thriving as much on the intellectual and social stimulation of exploring this ancient Chinese practice together as they are on their medical test results.

Information regarding the studies cited in this article was found in the Harvard Women’s Health Watch newsletter (May 2009).  Tai Chi classes are available to residents, free of charge, in N-313 on Tuesdays from 3:00-3:30 and on Thursdays from 9:00-9:30.  For more information, call Chris at ext. 377 or Amanda at ext. 350.