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How Using Tai Chi Can Improve Occupational Performance

How Using Tai Chi Can Improve Occupational Performance
Elisabeth Bahr, OTD, MS, OT/L
January 2, 2024

A woman practicing Tai Chi outdoors with mountains in the background.

Tai Chi Chuan, also known as tai chi, is a martial art that originated from China and has been used in Eastern medicine for centuries due to its various health benefits.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health describes tai chi as “a practice that involves a series of slow, gentle movements and physical postures, a meditative state of mind, and controlled breathing. Tai chi originated as an ancient martial art in China. Over the years, it has become more focused on health promotion and rehabilitation.”

Tai chi, which is the most popular martial art in the Qigong style, aims to balance energy in the body. It typically begins with static positions, focusing on energy flow, before introducing precise, controlled movements. This internal, meditative approach differs significantly from external martial arts like karate (Sabel, 2023).

The art of tai chi is gaining traction among OTPs, especially those who work with older adults and those in neurological or orthopedic client care.

Research Shows That Tai Chi Can:

  • Help improve balance & prevent falls among older adults
  • Help adults with insomnia achieve better sleep
  • Improve the psycho-emotional state, cognition, & motor learning in older adults, especially during challenging times 
  • Help people with osteoarthritis by reducing pain & stiffness

Tai Chi in Occupational Therapy

Tai chi can be used as a preparatory method for stress reduction and mindfulness in clinical practice. It also serves as a tool to teach joint protection and energy conservation. To ensure tai chi is occupation-based, it can be practiced and then applied to a client's daily tasks that require balance, such as cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry. 

OTPs Use Tai Chi with Patients For: 

  • Neuromuscular Reeducation: To improve coordination, balance, & posture to make body use more efficient
  • Therapeutic Procedures: To help improve strength, endurance, & flexibility
  • Group Therapy: Enhancing attention & memory, as these movements stimulate the nervous system

Tai chi can also be included in home exercise programs to improve adherence, which is generally low. It's appealing due to its interesting nature, meaningfulness, non-irritation to joints, and simplicity.


More on this topic can be found in the OccupationalTherapy.com course, Using Tai Chi Chuan To Promote Occupational Performance by Richard Sabel, MA, MPH, OTR, GCFP.

For further information, visit NCCIH - Tai Chi.


Hosseini, L., Kargozar, E., Sharifi, F., Negarandeh, R., Memari, A., & Navab, E. (2018). Tai chi quan can improve balance and reduce fear of falling in community-dwelling older adults: A randomized control trial. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, 14(6), 1024-1031. https://doi.org/10.12965/jer.1836488.244

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2022). Tai Chi: What you need to know. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tai-chi-what-you-need-to-know

Sabel, R. (2023). Using Tai chi chuan to promote occupational performance. OccupationalTherapy.com, Course 5838. https://www.occupationaltherapy.com/ot-ceus/course/using-tai-chi-chuan-to-5838

Siu, P., Yu, A., Tam, B., Chin, E., Yu, D., Chung, K., Hui, S., Woo, J., Fong, D., Lee, P., Wei, G., & Irwin, M. (2021). Effects of tai chi or exercise on sleep in older adults with insomnia: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Network Open, 4(2), e2037199. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.37199

Solianik, R., Mickeviciene, D., Zlibinaite, L., & Cekanauskaite, A. (2021). Tai chi improves psycho-emotional state, cognition, and motor learning in older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Experimental Gerontology, 150, 111363. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exger.2021.111363

Kolasinski, S. L., Neogi, T., Hochberg, M. C., Oatis, C., Guyatt, G., Block, J., Callahan, L., Copenhaver, C., Dodge, C., Felson, D., Gellar, K., Harvey, W. F., Hawker, G., Herzig, E., Kwoh, C. K., Nelson, A. E., Samuels, J., Scanzello, C., White, D., Wise, B., … Reston, J. (2020). 2019 American College of Rheumatology/Arthritis Foundation Guideline for the management of osteoarthritis of the hand, hip, and knee. Arthritis Care & Research, 72(2), 149-162.

elisabeth bahr

Elisabeth Bahr, OTD, MS, OT/L

Elisabeth Bahr is a writer, artist, and occupational therapist. She holds a master of science from NYU and a doctorate in occupational therapy from BU. She is currently a health writer, educator, and advocate. You can find her consulting work at pegasuswellness.co and her writing on Continued and around the internet.

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