As many of us are aware, exercise has a long list of health benefits. These benefits can be taken advantage of at any age. Exercise appears to be increasingly important the older we get. Partaking in regular physical activities can minimize or even prevent several of the problems that are often associated with aging: increased body fat, loss of bone mass, decreased muscular strength, decreased flexibility, and slower reaction times.

As we continue into the New Year, many of us are trying to stay true to our resolutions to improve our health and wellness thereby improving the quality of our lives.  If this is your goal, then exercise is the way to get there. There are many ways to accomplish this and research is now highlighting the practice of both yoga and Tai Chi for men and women alike as effective home exercise options to promote health and well-being. The benefits of yoga and Tai Chi can be enjoyed by any age group and across any range of fitness and flexibility. It also doesn’t matter what level of flexibility you have.

Tai Chi has been linked to impressive health benefits in virtually everyone from youth to the elderly. It is an ideal form of exercise for those limited by chronic pain or other conditions that limit more vigorous exercise. The combination of martial arts movements and deep breathing can be adapted even for those confined to wheelchairs.

This form of exercise can often times reduce chronic pain and stiffness.  It can also improve strength, coordination, flexibility, and can condition the body as well. Studies have shown that the practice of Tai Chi can also improve the quality of sleep when practiced regularly. There is also a psychological benefit associated with the practice of Tai Chi, which has been shown to reduce the incidence of stress, anxiety, depression, and mood disorders.

Tai Chi began as a martial art and is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM has evolved over thousands of years in China. Tai Chi incorporates slow and controlled gentle movements with regulated breathing and focused meditation.  Research is now highlighting the many powerful health benefits that this practice provides.

Tai Chi is a low impact, weight bearing, aerobic exercise that is also relaxing.  Studies are now showing us that Tai Chi promotes cardiovascular fitness while burning about 280-500 calories per hour.  It can result in lowered blood pressure and improvement in immune system functioning while providing significant improvements in balance and coordination, which may prevent falls. Because Tai Chi is one of the lowest types of impact exercise there is, many with arthritis are able to practice this form of exercise with little or no discomfort.

For those that have incorporated and learned to enjoy Tai Chi in their lives, it’s no surprise that they’ve reported improved quality of life. In practically every way, this ancient practice appears to be good for you.

Yoga is also a beneficial exercise program to consider. It is an ancient practice that originated in India and has gained huge popularity in the western world. It is a form of exercise that incorporates stretching with movements to encourage strengthening and relaxation. There are different styles of yoga such as Ashtunga yoga, which focuses on improving flexibility with developing strength, and Hatha yoga which focuses on improving flexibility and relaxation. For those just starting out, Hatha yoga or a beginner’s Iyengar class is a good choice.

Continued practice of yoga often improves posture and makes it easier for most to hold and maintain their good posture. You may also become more aware of your posture, alignment and patterns of movement. It is beneficial for those with back problems, as it provides improved strength and flexibility of the spine. Because the total body is challenged in ways that traditional exercise does not provide, yoga improves balance and coordination. Many also experience feeling more energized when yoga is practiced regularly.

Yoga positions act to increase flexibility, tone muscles and increase lubrication of the joints, ligaments, and tendons. The gentle stretching of muscles and joints has been said to flush out toxins of the body and encourage nourishment of the body’s tissues.  The benefits of a better metabolism result from continued practice of yoga which helps to keep your weight in check along with providing core strengthening to improve overall body strength and help heal and reduce injuries.

Both yoga and Tai Chi provide profound physiological benefits to increase cardiovascular and respiratory efficiency, musculoskeletal flexibility, increased endurance and energy, decreased pain, stress, anxiety and depression, with improvement in balance, coordination, sleep and immunity. It has been well documented that weight-bearing exercises strengthen bones and help prevent osteoporosis. Both practices strengthen the mind-body connection, meaning that as you match your controlled breathing with the movements of the body, you can retrain your mind to find a place of calm and peace.

Both yoga and Tai Chi provide benefits that are apparent even after the first session. Most importantly, due to the low impact of both yoga and Tai Chi with controlled motion, there is a very low risk of injury compared to other forms of exercise.

2011 is an excellent time to make a commitment to try something new or expand on what you already know.  It is never too early or too late to make exercise a habit in your life. You will be rewarded with a healthy mind and body! As little as 30 minutes per day will provide you a means of enhancing your physical and mental health. Although Tai Chi and yoga are gentle exercises with few risks, if you have a health condition, it is important to consult with your health care provider prior to trying either of these practices.