The change of seasons, whether it is winter to spring or summer to fall, can be tough times for seniors with osteoarthritis. Fluctuations in temperature can cause the barometric pressure to shift. Cold weather can exacerbate osteoarthritis and other health conditions, like congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The same is true for hot, humid weather.
When it comes to arthritis, researchers believe these weather changes can increase stiffness and swelling in joints. Both result in pain that can cause a senior to be sedentary. While there are medications that treat arthritis, many have side effects older adults find to be uncomfortable.
Physicians often suggest patients engage in low-impact exercises on a regular basis to minimize symptoms of osteoarthritis. One activity that many seniors find beneficial is the popular form of Chinese exercise, tai chi. It may be one of the best natural remedies for managing arthritis all year.
A New Way to Manage Pain Using an Old Form of Exercise
In a 2016 study that utilized 200 adults living with osteoarthritis, researchers compared the effectiveness of tai chi and physical therapy. Traditionally, physical therapy has been used to treat osteoarthritis. In this study, scientists hoped the 12-week trial would prove that seniors who practiced tai chi would find relief from the pain and symptoms associated with this chronic and often debilitating condition.
Participants were split into 2 groups. One used physical therapy and another practiced tai chi:
- Physical therapy: The regimen was broken into two 6-week periods. For the first 6 weeks, participants attended two 30-minute sessions of one-on-one physical therapy. The next 6 weeks, they practiced home-based physical therapy which was closely monitored by team members of the study.
- Tai Chi: The other group learned and practiced tai chi. These participants attended two 1-hour tai chi sessions every week for all 12 weeks. During this time, each learned how to perform the movements and motions that make up this joint-friendly form of exercise.
By the study’s conclusion, both groups reported their pain as improved, but the tai chi group experienced the greatest impact. The participants who practiced tai chi said not only was their pain reduced or gone, but they also felt better physically and mentally.
How can a form of exercise that looks easy and moves so slowly offer such an improvement in mental and physical well-being? The answer lies in greater muscle mass and increased flexibility.
How Tai Chi Improves Health
- Flexibility: Because even slight movements can make damaged joints more painful, seniors with arthritis may become inactive and sedentary. Inactivity then causes joints to become even stiffer, further limiting mobility. Tai Chi is comprised of gentle but steady stretching exercises. The slow, thoughtful practice results in greater flexibility helping to relieve pain and swelling.
- Muscle strength: Another way tai chi helps is by building strength in the muscles surrounding joints damaged by arthritis. This support helps take pressure off the joints, reducing swelling and pain.
- Overall fitness: To a casual observer, tai chi looks like an easy form of exercise. It isn’t. While it is low-impact, people who regularly practice tai chi have good overall strength and stamina. They also learn breathing techniques that help reduce stress and bring calm.