Rycke’s Remedies #14: Tai Chi for Diabetes, and Much More

Colin Hoobler, a licensed physical therapist, writes an exercise advice column for the Oregonian. In response to a question by a reader about how important exercise is in the treatment of his newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetes, he stressed that the reader needs to do more than just “walk when you can,” and eat a more healthy diet as his doctor advised; he needs strengthening exercise.

“Specifically, new guidelines recommend at least 2 ½ hours of ‘moderate’ to ‘vigorous’ endurance exercise weekly (spaced evenly).” He says that most patients with Type 2 diabetes are too unfit to safely exercise at first without help from a physical therapist. Knee and back problems are common in people who are overweight. “Choosing the right strengthening exercises and doing them safely is really important.”

Not everyone can afford a physical therapist. But there is a strengthening exercise regimen that is safe for everyone and is commonly taught throughout America, which one can learn at reasonable cost, or even free: Tai Chi.

Even people who are not overweight can have knee and back problems, and so it was when I was young, thanks to high heels and an auto accident at 19 that left me with a tricky knee. But at 28, I took Tai Chi while attending Rogue Community College. It was taught by a very good instructor who taught the Yang style American Short Form. It takes 10 minutes to do right, which is very slowly, and one does it every day to stay in shape. (The long form takes 20 minutes.)

Learning is actually far more strenuous than doing the form daily. The bent-legged movements strengthen muscles you don’t normally use, and you’ll feel every one of them as you learn.

I learned the short form within 6 months, and realized at that point that I hadn’t had a backache in a long time. My driving had improved because I had trained my peripheral vision by looking at nothing, and thus seeing everything. When my knee popped out running down stairs, Tai Chi was my rehabilitation. When I was pregnant with my second child, I did it twice a day to relieve the strain on my back.

Our instructor, Steve Doob, a small, scrappy fellow who took on the Powers that Be at the college, taught the fighting significance of some of the moves and told us to think about fighting uses while doing the form. This trains reflexes and lends snap and grace to the movements, as purpose does. That grace and purpose gave me an instant tough reputation in jail and prison, without any violence or threat thereof-except one turning, backhanded slap straight to mid-chest, when a woman sneaked up behind me and goosed me as I walked across the yard. I could only say, “Sorry! I’ve got reflexes!”

The combination of bent knees, straight posture, and slow movement teaches proper balance and solid connection to the earth. Slow movements require far more strength than fast ones, to the point of making the exercise aerobic when done slowly enough. Slow movement also trains reflexes better, as one can think about each part of the move and its use while doing it slowly. When one needs to do it fast, every part is done right; the movement is smooth and exact.

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