BBC Radio 4 – Just One Thing – with Michael Mosley

“It seems to train up your brain as well,” says Dr Siu. “There has been evidence from brain imaging studies that suggests that your brain would adapt at both the structural and functional levels… Conventional exercise can change the brain a little bit but not to the extent of what we observe from Tai Chi training.”

Someone practising Tai Chi burns a similar number of calories to someone who appears to be working out a lot harder.

He believes the meditation element is to thank. “You may want to incorporate the meditations during the Tai Chi movement in order to acquire the most benefit from Tai Chi,” suggests the expert.

It burns the same number of calories as conventional exercise

It looks like very gentle, slow, smooth movement, says Dr Siu. Barely exercise at all. But someone practising Tai Chi burns a similar number of calories to someone who appears to be working out a lot harder: “The participant practising Tai Chi – they burn similar calories compared to conventional exercise in our research setting.”

Tai Chi can help you lose fat as quickly as the gym

Another study had surprising findings when it came to Tai Chi and weight loss.

Tai Chi is “about as effective as conventional exercise”, including aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, “for reducing our waist circumference in the individual with central obesity,” says Dr Siu. (Central obesity is a sign of visceral, internal fat surrounding our organs.)

This is great news, he says, for those who don’t enjoy conventional exercise or who have limited mobility. “Now they can have another option that can allow them to manage the condition of central obesity.”

Getting started

Dr Siu’s top tip is to join a Tai Chi class supervised by a qualified instructor, because of the meditation component: “The bodily movement is not hard to pick up in front of the online video; the difficult part will be the meditation part.” Someone personally guiding you will enable you to grasp the “moving meditation” skills more quickly, he suggests.

But for those who can’t join a class in person, an online video will still allow you to pick up the “fundamental moves” and get started. There’s an easy video on the BBC website; you’ll also find one on the NHS website.

Tai Chi is a doddle to do at home – and you don’t even need to get changed. Give it a go and your immune system, your heart and your brain could all benefit.

To learn more about the benefits of Tai Chi, listen to this episode of Just One Thing on BBC Sounds.

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