Health and the ancient discipline of tai chi

August 4, 2014

From the window of his hotel in Beijing, Wayne English, DO, saw something in 1990 that would impact his life for decades to come.

“Everywhere I looked, in parks, on corners and in vacant lots, there were people doing these weird movements that I thought were rather ridiculous,” he said. “It didn’t seem to matter if they were 97 or 17. They were all able to do these motions with ease.”

Since then, Dr. English has been learning about, practicing and teaching the ancient discipline of tai chi, which focuses on slow, rhythmic movements. An adjunct professor at UNT Health Science Center who is certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, Dr. English has a long history with the University. Beginning Sept. 2, he will teach a free tai chi class for members of the Founders’ Activity Center on Tuesday afternoons.

At 84, he is his own best example of how beneficial tai chi is, especially for seniors.

“I learned tai chi to preserve myself,” he said. “It’s what keeps me living.”

After surviving polio and paralysis at age 14, Dr. English had his eye on a career in baseball, but decided to go to medical school after a stint in semi-professional sports. Over the years, a broken ankle, low back pain and other injuries took a toll.

Tai chi gave him back his range of motion, improved his strength and increased his stamina. Today, he can squat to the ground and pop right back up.

Improved balance is one of tai-chi’s greatest assets, especially for older adults. By strengthening leg muscles, increasing flexibility and improving reaction time, tai chi can prevent falls.

Rather than building muscle power, tai chi enhances cardio and pulmonary function and improves intrinsic energy through slow-flowing movements, Dr. English said. With its methodical, rhythmic motion, it is also less injurious than other forms of exercise, making it well-suited for seniors.

But it’s just as beneficial to young people, which is one reason he encourages medical students to practice tai chi and teach it to others.

“It’s an antidote for stress,” Dr. English said.

Diana Cervantes. Assistant Professor Biostatistics & Epidemiology
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