An article by exercise physiologist, Jennifer Smallridge

When we think of Tai Chi, we often envision images of people doing peaceful movement classes in local parks. But did you know that Tai Chi is backed up by scientific studies for many health benefits?  


Tai Chi originated in ancient China, and is hard to summarise with words alone. It falls within the martial arts family, but behaves more like a dance, where slow and mindful movements are learned and then strung together to create different forms. The key feeling reported from Tai Chi participants is relaxation, which then leads to a ripple effect in the rest of their lives - because it is also a type of physical exercise, the whole body and mind can benefit.  


There is a specific method called Tai Chi for Arthritis which targets joint pain. This was developed by Dr Paul Lam, a highly experienced family physician and Tai Chi expert. His program has robust evidence behind it to show that it improves quality of life, relieves pain, and enhances health. It has also been backed by Arthritis Australia and the Centre for Disease Control in the US. Research states that the program works in the following ways: 

  • Building muscle strength, to support and protect joints 
  • Increasing flexibility, to gently free up stiff joints and muscles 
  • Improving aerobic fitness, to increase the function of the heart and lungs 
  • Boosting balance and flexibility, to prevent falls and increase confidence 

To get involved, you can search for Tai Chi classes in your area using this database: You can then see if your local instructor has undertaken further training in the Tai Chi for Arthritis method, or any other specialities (back pain, osteoporosis, diabetes, children, etc). Dr Paul Lam also has an excellent online offering here: 

Research recommends that 8-12 hour-long sessions of Tai Chi be completed to learn the various forms, with self practice in between, although most people find that it soon becomes an irreplaceable part of their life! 




Fransen, M., Nairn, L., Winstanley, J., Lam, P. and Edmonds, J., 2007. Physical activity for osteoarthritis management: a randomized controlled clinical trial evaluating hydrotherapy or Tai Chi classes. Arthritis Care & Research, 57(3), pp.407-414. 

Song, R.Y., Eam, A.Y., Lee, E.O., Lam, P. and Bae, S.C., 2009. Effects of tai chi combined with self-help program on arthritic symptoms and fear of falling in women with osteoarthritis. Journal of Muscle and Joint Health, 16(1), pp.46-54. 

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