I was asked this week if being in your forties is too old to start a Tai Chi class, when I get this question it always seems strange to me especially since nearly all the latest press releases on Tai Chi have been about it being used in senior exercise classes and to prevent falls. But than again I was in culture shock when I saw that if I entered my business partners bi annual Karate tournaments I would be considered a “Senior” competitor.While competing in tournaments and full contact sparring may be of the menu if you start later in life, other portions of a martial arts curriculum can easily make your life more interesting and well rounded.
The health benefits from Tai Chi an Qi Gong have become so popular that the Mayo Clinic’s Woman’s Health Resource recommend it as a:
“relatively inexpensive techniques that may help improve health and well-being”.
On becoming a Students:
Good instructors of the martial arts can easily adapt their program, focusing not just on self defense or competition but also on the other benefits the the martial arts have to offer in cardiovascular health, range of motion, balance control, muscle strength, bone mass, mental focus, and general confidence. My comments below are based on research being done on Tai Chi and my own experience.
Falling or breaking something is one if the main fears when coming to the first studying the martial arts. While this can happen though accident martial arts include movements that do not appear in our everyday life, balancing on one foot, spinning movements, and sweeping arm movements which require coordination, focus, and practice. This exercises stabilizer muscles which can help prevent falls, a major health concern for older adults. It also means that you are simply on your feet, which can helps maintain and even build bone mass (the use it or loose it principle applies here), and means if you do fall chance are less likely that you will have a break which will require surgery.
Arthritis, previous injuries, and general muscle pain are other complaints that usually keep people out of martial arts, but under general circumstances martial arts can help relieve many of these problems. Exercise releases natural pain relievers and the stretching can help reduce scar tissue. A good instructor can also adapt their arts to meet and overcome many limitations. I have taught people who have had surgically frozen knees as well as a variety of other neural-muscular disorders and they have done very well.
Finally the later part of your professional life and retirement can give you time to train that you may not have had when you were first establishing yourself. Weekends are usually free and you may have more ability to set your own schedule.
On choosing an Art:
Because my primary arts are Tai Chi and Qi Gong I see more students who start in their thirties, fifties, even seventies and see more people coming following surgery and illness. Focus moves to development of skill and fluidity and away from striking power and percussive force as we grow older. My students will tell you that a slow moving workout can be as much of a workout as a fast one. Non-competitive Push Hands exercises (also called Sensing Hands) and the low impact stretching and strengthening arts can teach you all the same basic skills as high impact training.
Speak with the instructor and be sure you feel comfortable at what you are doing. My arts of Tai Chi and Qi Gong are good choices at any age, Aikido and Ba Gua (A faster Chinese internal art similar in principle to Tai Chi) are also good to places to start since they both focus on soft power are also good places to start if you are OK with a little extra muscle work and hitting the mats. Even traditionally harder art styles like Karate and Tae Kwon Do as long as you work with your instructor and don’t have any unreal expectations. Chances are if you can’t kick above your waist now you won’t be able to kick over you head in six months.
If you have any questions or comments, Please feel free to leave them I can also always be reached through www.TaiChiTeacher.Org.