About 10 years ago down in London when walking home after a morning of teaching Tai Chi I found myself alongside my most elderly student. After a short time, I noticed that even though I was about 40 years her junior I was putting in quite some effort to keep up with her. Initially I was okay with this until I discovered that she would be walking about 80% of my route which meant continuing to go at a pace that was becoming embarrassingly uncomfortable! This was further exacerbated when she told me how she was a member of a local 70+ ramblers club, and that she was going to have to leave them because she was finding it difficult to keep up, what with being well into her 80s and also now having a dodgy knee…
Now, even with all my years of training in a variety of sports and specialised activities, and despite being outshone by anyone who’s seriously older than me, I still think that walking is one of the best exercises around; provided you’re sensible.
As with all exercise I always apply what I call my ‘golden rule’ which I also teach to all my students: “If it hurts don’t do it”.
This is a simple mantra that usually serves to protect most people apart from those that don’t listen to me and those that don’t listen to their own bodies. One such episode occurred when one of my younger students (she was only in her 70s) was informed by her GP that she had a raised cholesterol level. Being the type of person that she was my student went into a panic and without further consultation decided she best take up jogging. Fine you might say, until you understand that this is not by itself the best way to reduce cholesterol, nor is it a good idea to take up jogging if you have no experience of it, especially if you are in your 70s. Surprise, surprise, she put her back out within a hundred yards of her house.
After talking with her I ascertained that in her ‘panicked state, my student ignored all of the cardinal rules of any physical exercise:
- Understand what you are doing, or get expert advice if you’re not experienced
- Gently warm up before throwing yourself headlong into the activity
- Relax and enjoy it
- And finally – for the third time: “If it hurts don’t do it”
One of the main points I took from this is that although learning Tai Chi will automatically and unconsciously have beneficial effects on all areas of your life you still need to consciously apply it to gain the full benefit. Who knows, she might not have even made the hundred yards if she hadn’t been a Tai Chi player? The other point being that if you build up slowly you can achieve amazing things – and it really doesn’t need to hurt!
As I am a pragmatist rather than a purist I recognise that amongst my Tai Chi students, and indeed amongst the rest of you, there will be some people who feel the need to do other forms of exercise, e.g. long-distance running. Therefore, I thoroughly recommend a book entitled ‘Chi Running’ (link opens in Amazon.co.uk) which I have used myself on those occasions when I need to go at more than a snail’s pace. I don’t do serious amounts of running but I take the same view as I do with swimming, i.e. I can swim well enough to save my life in reasonably non-extreme circumstances such as falling into the river from a pleasure boat. Likewise, with running I can still catch a train when the taxi taking me to the station is forced to stop after knocking down a jogger trying to reduce their cholesterol. Fortunately for me it was less than a hundred yards to the station…