By: Ray Gates, PT
I’ve been involved in exercise of one form or another for most of my life, whether it was playing sports, weight training at the gym, martial arts training, or simply enjoying long walks and hikes. This became even more so as I became a physical therapist – exercise literally became the way I made my living.
One of the key principles of effective exercise is ensuring that you have effective strategies for recovery following exercise. Recovery is important because it is what helps the body make positive adaptations and thus gain the benefit from the exercise being performed. Without proper recovery, exercise may do more harm than good – this is why many sports and high level exercise programs have ‘rest’ days to allow the body to adapt and heal following exercise. If you’ve engaged in any sort of sport and exercise you’re probably familiar with stretching after exercise to avoid injury, though exercise science research continues to argue whether stretching is effective for recovery. Elite level athletes often use ‘cross-training’ activities – that is activities and exercises not necessarily related to their actual sport – as a form of recovery from their regular training, and the research has demonstrated that this has benefits to their overall performance and ability to improve.
Tai Chi and Qigong are both well known for their wide range of benefits as forms of exercise. Clinical research is increasingly demonstrating evidence that Tai Chi and Qigong are useful adjuncts to other forms of exercise in maximizing the overall effects and outcomes of exercise or rehabilitation programs. Most research tends to take place in health-compromised populations, for example, those with specific illness or conditions (eg: Parkinson’s Disease, cancer, etc.), those with recent trauma or injury (eg: after stroke, heart attack, etc.) and those who are at risk of decline as a part of the aging process. Yet there hasn’t been a lot of investigation on Tai Chi and Qigong in already healthy/fit populations, nor does there appear to be any research looking at the benefits Tai Chi and Qigong could have in post-exercise recovery. Given the multitude of benefits already demonstrated by Tai Chi and Qigong in terms of gains in strength, flexibility, balance, and mental and emotional wellbeing, it seems reasonable to expect that Tai Chi and Qigong would be very effective in facilitating post-exercise recovery. I started to look into this with my own exercise, and my experience tells me we need to be examining this more closely.
My Experience with Tai Chi and Qigong Following ExerciseI first started weight training when I was about 15 years old and have engaged in this kind of training on and off ever since, including now. As such, I’m very familiar with the soreness and fatigue that comes from a good weights session, and the importance of allowing adequate recovery time to avoid injury and facilitate adaptive changes in the body.
About 10 years ago I had the opportunity to recommence a gym program focused on both building strength and weight reduction after a considerable time away from this type of exercise. My program consisted both anaerobic (mostly free weights training) and aerobic (treadmill, cross-trainer/elliptical or rowing machine) exercises. When I committed to starting the program I knew I would be starting from a low level and it would take time to build up to where I had previously been, and I knew what I was in for, especially in those early weeks! The difference this time, though was that I planned to practice my Tai Chi and Qigong sets after I exercised.
At the time my only intention for including Tai Chi and Qigong practice was to spend more practicing these sets by taking opportunity of the time I was setting aside for exercise. I had not considered that there could be any sort of specific benefit to practicing my Tai Chi and Qigong after exercise beyond ensuring that I was getting my practice in!
My experience was almost immediate, to the point where it took me a little while to make any sort of connection. The first week of starting my program, I noticed that I was not experiencing the level of soreness or fatigue I was expecting from the gym sessions. This is not to say I didn’t experience any, just not anywhere near what I expected. I put this down to the idea that I was “easing back into it” and not working out as hard as I potentially could. I felt this was a reasonable approach, though I was keen to make gains, and so from the second week on I started to challenge myself.
As the weeks went on though, I realized that I was making gains – in terms of increased strength (increasing the resistance of my exercises) and stamina (increasing the time spent on aerobic exercises) at a faster rate than I had ever previously achieved. More than that, rather than feel fatigued at the end of an exercise session, I felt energized and the soreness I experienced was minimal. I started to wonder if my Tai Chi and Qigong could explain what was happening, so I tried a little experiment. For one week, I continued with my gym program but did not practice my Tai Chi and Qigong afterwards – though I did continue to practice them at my regular classes twice a week.
Again, the effect was almost instantaneous. After the second session of the week I felt more sore and more fatigued. Not only that, but I felt ‘stiff’ and ‘tight’, like I needed a good stretch. I particularly found my aerobic components became more laborious and harder to maintain at the level I had been doing. By midway through the week I was so convinced I wanted to restart my Tai Chi and Qigong practice just so I wouldn’t feel this way after a workout, however I persisted with abstaining from it for the week in an attempt to try and confirm (at least to myself) what was happening.
When I restarted my Tai Chi and Qigong practice after exercising the following week, everything went back to the way it was: less soreness, less tiredness, and feeling ‘good’ after each session. To me there seemed to be a clear link between the two.
I must admit this is by no means any sort of proof that Tai Chi and Qigong can assist with post-exercise recovery – at best it’s anecdotal evidence – but as a physical therapist and a student of exercise science, I believe it’s enough to warrant further investigation through clinical research.
Possible Explanations for How Tai Chi and Qigong Facilitate Post-Exercise Recovery
Assuming the benefits I experienced are a result of including Tai Chi and Qigong practice following exercise, what could the possible explanation be? The immediate consideration relates to the flow of qi in the body, and way that Tai Chi and Qigong improve qi flow, and the subsequent benefits this has on one’s health. However, Western science still struggles with the concept of qi, and though evidence is growing in support of biofield medicine (a term used to explain the effects of energies known as qi, prana, mana, etc.), at this time it’s likely that any clinical research will want a more ‘physiological’ explanation in order to validate any evidence that becomes apparent through studies. In my own consideration of this, I would suggest Tai Chi and Qigong practice post-exercise could influence the following mechanisms:
This is by no means an exhaustive list, however I feel it is a reasonable starting place for clinical research and one that would be relatively easy for experienced researchers in exercise and sports sciences to develop studies for.
A Call for Further Research
With the increasing evidence of the benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong across the health and wellness spectrum, as well as their relative ease of application (no need for costly or special equipment, for example), it only makes sense to investigate the potential practices could have on enhancing the effects of exercise. If it can be demonstrated that Tai Chi and Qigong can enhance post-exercise recovery, and this in turn enhances ability for people to participate in exercise programs, imagine the potential this has for exercise in all settings: from school-based sports and athletics programs, to rehabilitation programs, to elite level athletic performance. Tai Chi and Qigong could be a game changer in a very literal sense.
Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy, and our Instructor Ray Gates, welcomes the opportunity to partner with and assist any researchers wanting to investigate the effects and benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong, whether related to post-exercise recovery or otherwise. If you have a study or project you would like our involvement with, please use this link to Contact Us.
To preserve your independence and quality of life it is important to train differently, smarter. Not only are we trying to overcome the loss of muscle mass and strength, but we need to build resilience to ease and manage chronic conditions, and to reduce our overall physical vulnerability.
There are three key areas in which we need to be mindful as we pursue fitness as older adults: strength, flexibility, and balance training (agility).
You may remember how you lifted weights as a 20 or 30 year old, well, when we get to be about 50 so much has changed within our bodies and we need to mindful that strength training looks a little different. Injury prevention is the main concern are injuries and over exertion. Studies have shown that resistance training and isometric training actually is better at building strength with minimal injuries.
In the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research it summarizes the many ways in which resistance training promotes healthy aging. “Current research has demonstrated that resistance training is a powerful care model to combat loss of muscle strength and mass in the aging population.” Mark D. Peterson, Ph.D.
A few examples of effective strength training are:
Acquiring and maintaining good balance is greatly beneficial for older adults as prevention for falls, injury, and loss of independence.
We would love to discuss your training needs and answer any questions you may have. Remember that motion is lotion...we truly start aging when we stop moving! See you soon! Lisa
Top Three Supplements We Need
With aging we have to realize and accept that we are breaking down and preparing to leave this world. It stinks but with acceptance comes the knowledge that we need to be taking steps to make our process easier and allow us to enjoy our lives and experiences.
With aging our digestion slows and we find that we have more food sensitivities because of this we sometimes need supplements to help keep us moving and feeling better. Today I want to address the top three, in my book. My hope would be that we could get these through our food but we all find ourselves falling short of a less than ideal diet. I don't want to discuss which diet is best, I want to discuss what our bodies NEED.
In the Greek language it is literally translated 'glue'. With 16 different types of collagen in our bodies it is found in all our connective tissues, bones, skin, joints, and organs. With aging our bodies are creating less and a lower quality than when we were in our 20s and our modern diet we are consuming less and less within our food. Naturally collagen is found in the skin of chicken and pork, bones and connective tissue of all animals, and clear gelatin. While we can consume more connective tissue of animals we circle back to slowing digestion as we age, when we eat the above the proteins break down into amino acids and then reassemble as a number of nutrients. We aren't getting what we need from the food we eat because as we age we aren't able to consume enough collagen at the rate it is breaking down, in comes the need for a supplement.
Supplements are already bio available to use as collagen builders. Collagen powders are typically tasteless so it is easy to add them to a variety of meals. I recommend using a high quality collagen supplement with few fillers. Types I, II, III, IV are the four primary collagen types, taking a supplement that has all four types is optimum, unless you are recovering from a surgery then it is helpful to be more specific.
2017 study showed the use of collagen supplements to protect your joints from osteoarthritis and increased damage from osteoarthritis. Another study in 2019 showed an increase in muscle mass in older men. More and more studies are trickling out about the usefulness of a quality collagen supplement.
If you are one of my clients we have talked about magnesium because it is the 4th most abundant mineral in our body! Low magnesium is linked to depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, muscle weakness, dementia...wow...when we look at the prevalence of the above conditions in our society it makes you wonder if we are a nation of magnesium deficiencies.
Few people hit the daily recommendations through food. We need to be consuming, on a daily basis, high amounts of greens, salmon, avocados, tofu, almonds, etc. But, as discussed earlier, our digestion is slowing and our absorption isn't as good as it once was. It just becomes too hard to take in what we need as we age with food alone. I am not dismissing a good, healthy diet but reality is as we age we need to eat less to maintain a healthy weight, we develop more food sensitivities, and our digestion itself is slowing down so we need some supplements.
There are so many TYPES of magnesium and each is a little different offering something different to the body. I recommend using a magnesium complex that has magnesium gluconate and magnesium glycinate in it. Be cautious of any supplement using magnesium carbonate or citrate, both act as a diuretic. Take your magnesium supplement before bed, magnesium has also been showed to help with quality of sleep.
The B complex I am talking about contains 8 B vitamins. This is the only vitamin that you should be able to get through your food on a daily basis but, again, with slowing digestion make sure your doctors are testing for deficiencies. B vitamins are found in dairy, fish, greens, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts...so, if you are eating healthy you should be able to get enough to keep your energy levels up and help with brain function. If you find yourself struggling with energy or fogginess call your physician and have a test done to see where you are at. If you are borderline with a good diet, snag a quality supplement...if you are borderline with a bad diet, eat better!
That's all for now, I'm off to see clients and just had a few moments...remember to eat well daily, move daily, and laugh daily.
Finding Your Foundation...then Building
There’s a ton of nutritional information and advice circulating out there, and it can be overwhelming and confusing to separate fact from fiction. As the clinic prepares to bring in Metabolic Analysis System to help you find what will work with your metabolism and body I wanted to give you some things to consider as you navigate all the fads and gimmicks.
What’s being said?
Take a look at the claims and benefits touted for products and diet plans. See whether there’s an explanation for how to receive or achieve the benefits. Lastly, pay attention to what’s required to follow the plan or use the product.
Some red flags include:
Who’s saying it?
Make sure that the information is coming from a credible, reliable source. Look at the person’s credentials and qualifications, as well as their intentions for providing nutritional guidance.
Some red flags include:
The language and tone can indicate the credibility of a source. Look for sources that are neutral and unbiased in the wording and approach they use when presenting nutritional information.
Some red flags include:
How might it fit into your lifestyle?
If you want to apply nutritional information to yourself or your family, you must consider whether it will be sustainable long term. Think about safety, taste, cost, schedule, culture, stress, and overall feasibility. You’ll also want to consider potential impacts on all aspects of your well-being — physical, social, emotional, mental, and financial. Make sure to meet with your doctor or dietitian before starting any diet plan or product to ask whether it’s safe and appropriate for you.
Some red flags include:
Where else is it being talked about?
Just because information has become popular and mainstream doesn’t necessarily mean it’s credible or accurate. Look beyond the media hype. Do a quick search in a research database, such as pubmed.gov, to see whether the trend has peer-reviewed science to back up its claims.
Some red flags include:
The Bottom Line
Nutritional information is everywhere — and frankly, it can be exhausting. Using a thoughtful, guided approach to efficiently sort through it all can help save you from wasting your valuable time, money, and energy on products and diets that are unnecessary, unsustainable, and potentially unsafe. When in doubt, ask questions, think critically, and stay curious.
When there are rules or restrictions for food, stress and guilt often come with them. This can spiral into disordered eating or eating disorders, particularly in adolescent and teenager populations. Momentum promotes an All Foods Fit philosophy. This means that there are no “good” or “bad” foods, and all foods have a place on the plate, because there are so many different reasons to eat different foods — from house-made pizza and cookies to fresh fruits and vegetables and everything in between.
Momentum believes that there is no one perfect diet, no one absolute when it comes to food. Food is fuel for our bodies and when we see that every body has different needs we must then realize that going 100% plant based may be healthy for one person but harmful for another. Bringing the Metabolic Analysis System onboard at the end of February will be just one tool to help you find what your body needs and get you to your goals!
Metabolic Testing will provide a 360-degree view of your metabolic, heart & lung function. This will be able to serve as a foundation for your workout & nutrition plans to help you accomplish your fitness goals but it will also help those suffering with chronic pain. Measuring the impact of chronic pain on your heart, lungs, and muscles is important. We will then be able to draft movement and therapy programs that are tailored to your own body's needs.
A little from Dr. Dan, a little from Lisa but always a lot of good stuff!