Tai chi offers help in fight against diabetes

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We were very fortunate to have Dr. Paul Lam come to Walla Walla recently for a tai chi workshop.

Lam, a family physician practicing medicine in Sydney, Australia, is known around the world for his tai chi for health programs. With November dedicated to diabetes awareness, it seems fitting to talk about how tai chi works for those with diabetes.

Diet and exercise are the cornerstone of diabetes management.

People with diabetes who exercise regularly have better control over their blood glucose levels and fewer complications such as heart disease and stroke.

The key to keeping up with regular exercise is to find something you enjoy and will stick with as part of your lifestyle.

Tai chi offers a major advantage: It's enjoyable and to many it's almost addictive. It does take some time, usually three to six months to get over the initial learning phase but you sure have fun while learning.

As you become familiar with the rhythm and feel of tai chi, most people continue exercising. One of the best things about doing tai chi is that you can practice it almost anywhere.

Tai chi focuses on building strength, balance and flexibility through slow, fluid movements combined with mental imagery and deep breathing.

Scientific studies have shown tai chi to have beneficial effects on cardio-respiratory fitness, muscular strength, balance, peripheral circulation, reduced tension and anxiety.

These in turn minimize the complications of diabetes including peripheral neuropathy, a condition in which the nerves of the feet are damaged thus affecting stability in walking.

The simple moving steps of tai chi, have proven to be effective in helping balance and mobility.

(Tai chi can also be done sitting in a chair.)

Tai Chi for Diabetes, as developed by Lam, is designed to help prevent and improve control of diabetes by gently increasing physical activities, cellular uptake of glucose and relaxation.

The rhythmic movement of the muscles and joints during tai chi pump energy throughout the whole body. Gentle exercise has been shown by studies to prevent diabetes in 60 percent of cases, therefore since tai chi is a gentle exercise we can assume it's effective.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, enhancing the qi -- life energy -- in the appropriate meridians will therefore improve diabetes.

Stress stands in the way of controlling diabetes.

Tai chi encourages mental relaxation and reduces stress, enhances concentration, clarity of the mind and uplifts the mood.

To see a Tai Chi for Diabetes demonstration, come to the Diabetes Luau at Walla Walla General Hospital on Nov. 20 from 2-6 p.m.

Making any exercise social and fun is the key to success. If you can't come to the luau, come to Many Waters Wellness Center and enjoy a cup of tea, visit with students and, as Lam would say: "Give it a go!"

Sandi Wicher, senior trainer for tai chi for health programs, teaches beginning level tai chi and qigong classes at Many Waters Wellness Center. For information on ongoing classes go to www.manywaterswellnesscenter.com or call Sandi at 386-4305.

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