A recent study which expands on research begun in 2015 showed positive outcomes for people using tai chi for weight loss. These are HUGE findings for people who are not active, have knee or back pain, or who cannot do other exercise due to being overweight.
As excited as I was to learn about these results, I felt compelled to share the actual data and outcomes here because unfortunately they are being misrepresented by many sources who are going after captivating titles like Lose Weight with Tai Chi and even Tai Ch Burns Belly Fat.
This makes me really sad because tai chi is helping people lose weight (as you will soon see) but when only portions of the study are cherry-picked or when tai chi is talked about as a cure-all, it actually keeps practical-minded individuals from trying it out and reaping the benefits. Here is what the research discovered:
New studies indicate that tai chi is as effective as low impact exercise in reducing weight and reducing waist circumference. In a study comparing exercise, tai chi, and a no-exercise group, the two active groups had similar results despite tai chi having less strenuous impact on the body.
Note that it is “as effective” and not better than exercise. I think this is game-changing research because there are so many people sitting on the sidelines because their health conditions don’t allow them to be active. These are people who have been sedentary for a while, have low stamina or strength, or are in pain. Previously, tai chi had already been found to help with knee pain and back pain.
For the millions of adults who are diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol (LDL), reducing body fat is one of the goals given to them by their doctors. Now they can use tai chi to get there if exercise is difficult for them.
Millions of adults each year also face injuries or develop chronic pain that reduces their activity level, leading to obesity, and potentially the three conditions listed above. They too can turn back the health clock by using tai chi for weight loss goals.
Isn’t this amazing?! Anyone wanting to become more active regardless of their current fitness level has a way to do it. I know this is not as sexy of a headline as Reduce Your Waist Circumference with Tai Chi, but this could be life-changing for so many people.
Let’s walk through and cite the original research in a fun way so that you know how they got the results they did and can trust the data. Then we will compare other modalities such as tai chi vs yoga for weight loss and give you some resources to get you started.
Why is the Government and Medical Community Funding Studies Focusing on the Effectiveness of Using Tai Chi for Weight Loss?
Let’s start with the climate of the medical community over at least the last decade so that we understand how funding and (typically conservative) research institutions are even considering tai chi as a weight loss strategy.
Despite astronomic amounts of money being put into the development of new drugs, awareness campaigns, and health initiatives, all health markers within the United States and many other countries are getting worse. There is no exception. Not cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or neurodegenerative disease (e.g. stroke, Parkinsons).1
This naturally leads to astronomic increases in healthcare costs and the number of people entering the medical system.2
Traditional exercise suggestions that are successful at combatting acquired diseases, can no longer be performed by many of the sickest because of their degree of obesity or limited mobility.3
Traditional diet suggestions that were considered successful are either being reconsidered or cannot be suggested to many patients because of the rise in allergies to things like dairy and gluten.4
Not good, right?
One thing is clear: weight loss usually is accompanied by an improvement in activity, self-perception, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure.
So…researchers have their work cut out for them and a critical question to answer:
What is an inexpensive treatment that takes into consideration dietary restrictions and is appropriate for people who have mobility issues but still results in weight loss?
You guessed it. This is why and how well-funded studies are on the rise focusing on things like meditation, yoga, and tai chi for weight loss.
Three Studies Demonstrating the Effectiveness of Using Tai Chi for Weight Loss
I want you to take a quick walk with me through research that began in 2015 when researchers started seriously considering “alternative” modalities for weight loss and the major health issues that we face including heart disease, diabetes, and chronic pain.
374 Chinese adults were given physical activity regimes of tai chi or walking and there was a control group that did nothing. They measured for waist circumference, fasting blood glucose levels and heart-related measures such as blood pressure and triglycerides.
The Results: Improvements in waist circumference and fasting blood glucose for the two active groups.
Yay! Fast walking and tai chi reduce waist circumference and positively impact energy use. But what happens if we try to adjust our eating to lose weight and do tai chi or other exercise at the same time?
In the same year a 12-week study was conducted on obese women which included weight loss strategies and tai chi. Their goal was to see if tai chi was effective at weight loss as well as several markers of heart disease. T
The Results: The Tai Chi Weight Loss (TCWL) Group saw improvements in:
- Weight loss
- Sit-and-reach flexibility
- Body fat mass (BMI
- Waist circumference
- Systolic blood pressure
- Diastolic blood pressure
With these limited studies, the results positively showed that tai chi is good for weight loss and also showed improvements in health markers related to diabetes and heart disease. Time to test it out on more people for longer periods so we can get to a place where tai chi can be prescribed for weight loss.
Secondly, how does tai chi compare to other exercise? Is it better, the same, or not as effective? This next study lasted several years and tackled that question.
This study of 538 obese adults in Hong Kong took place between 2016 and 2019. Subjects undertook tai chi (TC), conventional exercise (CE), or maintained their current lifestyle (control group).
The Results: Both of the active groups lost weight and inches off of their waist while the control group had no change. Here is where it gets really interesting. After three months, the active groups lost about half an inch off their waist (CE= 1.3 cent. TC = 1.8 cent.). When the groups were remeasured six moths after classes ended their improvements continued. The tai chi group lost 4.3 centimeters, and the exercise group lost 3.6.
Summary and Conclusions Tai Chi Weight Loss Studies
At this point it is clear that tai chi is as effective as exercise for weight loss. This should not be misinterpreted as better. But! And hopefully not too big of a but 😊, what if you can’t do exercise? What if you don’t like exercise? What if you hope to get back to doing an exercise that you love?
Hopefully you are seeing that up until these studies were conducted, most of the “activity” suggestions were alienating the ones who needed it the most. Now we have an alternative or at the very least, a way to get people back to a place where western exercise is safe.
The last question we need to answer is: are there other exercises like tai chi that are good for overweight people or good for weight loss?
Qigong Vs Tai Chi Vs Yoga for Weight Loss
Researchers are always looking for the best outcomes they can achieve. Knowing that studies successfully used tai chi for weight loss, is it the best form of Meditative Movement (MM) to lose weight?
Studies are now becoming available testing standing meditation like qigong and static postures like yoga to see if they have the same benefits as tai chi or even better.
From a practical standpoint, not everyone has access to tai chi and even as gentle as tai chi is, some people have extremely restricted mobility. So can you do qigong or yoga?
Research on Body Composition Comparing Tai Chi Vs Qigong
Body Composition Outcomes of Tai Chi and Qigong Practice: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials
This is the most comprehensive article I could find because it analyses 24 studies with 1621 total participants. It compared studies of both tai chi and qigong that included results for body mass index.
The Results: Both tai chi and qigong had positive effects on body competition. These two activities are hard to put up against each other without an actual comparative study but the preliminary evidence looks good. Hopefully a study specifically comparing tai chi vs qigong on weight loss comes out to give us a definitive answer.
Trying to Choose Between Tai Chi Vs Yoga for Weight Loss
This is another place where I think that some people, albeit well intentioned, are stretching research that really hasn’t been conducted yet. Like with qigong, there is no large scale study comparing the two. In addition to that, there is not a lot of controlled research focusing only on yoga yet.
There are a lot of people who anecdotally credit yoga for their weight loss and for good reason. Smaller scale studies on specific attributes of weight loss and yoga are being conducted with positive results. For example, all of these studies had good outcomes:
Like the interest in tai chi as an alternative activity for weight loss, yoga is getting its day in the sun and hopefully we will see true comparative studies with measures of fat mass, waist circumference, or weight as a focus. However, if movement is an issue for you, the static postures of yoga mean that you can still make positive change.
Please do the Full Set of Tai Chi Exercises for Weight Loss
With the excitement about the recent research comes a whole slew of suggestions of which tai chi exercises for weight loss are the best. Note that in ALL of the studies above, people were taking classes to learn tai chi. They were not cherry-picking movements out of the form to do repetitively. This kind of misses the point.
Part of the reason why tai chi exercises for weight loss is successful is because they are a set of movements that have been put in a specific order and performed for a specific amount of time. These exercises have been honed and improved for several hundred years.
Something that the research doesn’t talk about much is the meditative aspect of tai chi. Stress is correlated with weight gain. Reducing stress by doing the form enables the body to lose weight more effectively and I believe (my opinion) will be the reason why future studies on tai chi vs qigong vs yoga will all have similar positive outcomes.
I can’t really see how choosing random yoga poses or tai chi exercises for weight loss will get you the results you want. However, learning tai chi or the thought of doing the whole form can be overwhelming. A lot of people are introduced to tai chi through shortened videos on the movements that target what they are trying to fix. That’s not a bad thing.
Tai Chi Resources for Weight Loss.
Knowing that many readers that arrive here may not have access to tai chi in their community, I did some research on some of the best tai chi dvds for weight loss that people can use to get started in their homes. I found one that was specific to weight loss and had really positive reviews. Scott Cole has put together a series of videos targeting specific medical conditions and what I liked about the reviews are that people of all ages, abilities, and sizes found them helpful.
In the video Scott Cole Discover Tai Chi for Weight Loss, he specifically talks about weight loss and how doing tai chi accomplishes this.