You may have heard or been told by your doctor that exercises such as yoga, Pilates, and tai chi are good for your health. But how do you know if these practices are right for you? If you are thinking about trying one of these, here’s what to expect and the health benefits.
What are yoga, Pilates, and tai chi?
Yoga is a mind and body practice that combines physical postures, stretching exercises, breathing techniques, and meditation. Yoga can improve flexibility, muscle strength, and range of motion. There are many yoga styles, ranging from slow and gentle to athletic and vigorous.
Pilates is a body conditioning routine that focuses on use of the abdominals, low back, hips, and thighs. Doing Pilates can enhance flexibility, improve endurance, tone muscles, and strengthen the body’s “core” (torso). There are different ways to practice Pilates. Some Pilates exercises require specialized equipment, but most Pilates exercises can be done on the floor with a mat.
Tai chi is a mind and body practice that involves shifting the body’s weight through a series of postures and rhythmic movements combined with mental focus, breathing, and relaxation techniques. Practicing tai chi can enhance flexibility, improve balance, and build muscle strength.
Why should I consider trying yoga, Pilates, or tai chi?
The fun factor: Yoga, Pilates, and tai chi are enjoyable, non-strenuous ways to improve your fitness and they can be practiced indoors or outdoors, making it fun and convenient to do year round.
Happiness boost: These practices may increase your energy and stamina, reduce stress, and
enhance mood and overall well-being.
Social perks: Yoga, Pilates, and tai chi can all be practiced in a group setting such as a class, and can boost your social life.
Classes widely available: Most YMCAs, community or recreation centers, gyms, and some hospitals and medical centers offer classes. Many classes are low cost and they do not require a lot of gear or expensive equipment. Most of the exercises involve use of your own body weight and can be done on the floor with just a mat.
Excellent for meeting physical activity needs. These activities count toward the physical activity recommendations for strength training exercises of two times per week and moderate aerobic activity exercises of 150 minutes per week.
What are the health benefits?
Yoga, Pilates, and tai chi are all low-impact activities, which means they do not put stress on your joints. They are generally safe for healthy people (but always check with your healthcare provider before you start a new type of physical activity).
Some evidence suggests that these activities may help with some ongoing health conditions. Examples of specific health benefits may include:
- Lower blood pressure (tai chi and yoga)
- Improved balance and flexibility (tai chi, yoga, and pilates)
- Improved sleep (tai chi and yoga)
- Reduced anxiety and depression (tai chi and yoga)
- Reduced pain, especially for back pain (tai chi, yoga and pilates)
- Decreased risk of falls in older adults (tai chi)
- Improved quality of life, especially in people who have heart failure or cancer (tai chi)
What do I need to know before I start one of these practices?
If you’re thinking of trying yoga, Pilates, or tai chi, here are recommendations for your health and for having the best experience:
- Talk to your doctor before you start any exercise program. This is especially important if you are over age 40, you haven’t exercised for a while, or if you have certain health issues, such as arthritis, balance problems, glaucoma, herniated disc, high blood pressure, joint replacement, osteoporosis, risk for blood clots, or other chronic conditions.
- Start with a beginner’s class or a class tailored for older adults. Although you can learn yoga, Pilates, and tai chi from books and videos, it’s best to learn with an instructor so that you can gain the full benefits and learn proper techniques.
- Ask the instructor about his or her training and experience. Carefully selecting an instructor who is experienced and attentive to your needs is an important step toward helping you practice safely.
- Be sure to let your instructor know upfront about any medical issues you have. Ask how to adapt poses based on your individual ability.
- Pay attention to your body, and if something doesn’t feel right, stop doing it. Modify poses so you can prevent injury.
- Tell all your healthcare providers if you practice yoga, Pilates, or tai chi. By giving them the full picture of how you manage your health, you will ensure that you are receiving coordinated and safe care.
Five Tips: What You Should Know About Tai Chi for Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
Physical Activity and Your Heart, American Heart Association
Pilates, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research
Stress Management, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education
Tai Chi: A Gentle Way to Fight Stress, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research
Tai Chi and Qi Gong, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health https://nccih.nih.gov/health/taichi/introduction.htm
Yoga and Older Adults, National Institute on Aging
Yoga as a Complementary Health Approach, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
Yoga for Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health