Evidence is growing that tai chi, a mind-body practice that originated in China as a martial art, has value in treating or preventing many health problems, bone loss among them.
In this low-impact, slow-motion exercise, you move without pausing through a series of slow, usually circular motions. Throughout these gentle movements, the muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, the joints are not fully extended or bent, and connective tissues are not stretched. Because of these qualities, tai chi can be easily adapted for anyone, from the fittest individuals to people confined to wheelchairs or recovering from surgery.
But don't let the slow and gentle nature of tai chi deceive you. Even though the exercise doesn't leave you breathless, tai chi practitioners can reap big returns. A review of six controlled studies conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School showed tai chi could be an effective way to maintain bone density in postmenopausal women. Especially important is that tai chi is a safe activity for people who are elderly, frail, and out of condition -- individuals at particularly high risk for falls and broken bones. What's more, tai chi doesn't require any special equipment or facilities.
In addition to bone strength, tai chi improves muscle strength, flexibility, and balance -- all of which help you stay fit and avoid falls and fractures. It can also slightly improve aerobic conditioning, if it is done at a certain pace and is challenging enough.