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One Surprising Exercise Trick for Losing Belly Fat After 50, Says Study

New research shows how practicing tai chi can help you fight "central obesity" as you age.
FACT CHECKED BY Alex Daniel
Young Woman praticing tai chi chuan in the gym. Chinese management skill Qi's energy.

One of the things that makes exercise interesting is that there isn't one way to get fit and burn fat. Sure, some people love running, others walking, some prefer yoga, and others swear by strength training, but at least one leading health expert has made the case for playing more pickleball. One site in the UK did a deep analysis of leisure sports and found that playing golf on foot could burn upwards of 1,640 calories in a single day. Any movement is good movement, and even short bursts of exercise over the course of your day will add up.

Depending on your goals and your physique, you may find that some exercise may be better than others, of course. If you want big muscles, you need to perform resistance training, and if you want to improve your stamina for a marathon, it's helpful to pursue more cardio. But if you're approaching middle age or getting even older and you're looking to trim down your waist size, a new study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that one surprising exercise—an ancient meditative martial-art practice—is actually incredibly helpful. If you're curious to know what it is, read on, because we break it all down right here. And for more life-changing exercise advice, see here for the Secret Exercise Tricks for Keeping Your Weight Down for Good.

1

Meet Tai Chi

Seniors in the wellness class do Qi Gong or Tai Chi exercise for relaxation

If you've ever seen people in a public park gracefully moving their limbs slowly through the air while breathing in a slow, meditative way, you've seen tai chi in action. It's colloquially known as "meditation in motion." According to the UK's NHS, "tai chi, also called tai chi chuan, combines deep breathing and relaxation with flowing movements. Originally developed as a martial art in 13th-century China, tai chi is now practiced around the world as a health-promoting exercise."

Research has showed that tai chi is great at improving balance, posture, mobility—all things that can help you fight arthritis—and can help promote stronger muscles (primarily in your legs). It's also known to be an effective way to deal with stress. According to the health experts at The Mayo Clinic, tai chi is also shown to help "enhance the quality of sleep, enhance the immune system, help lower blood pressure, improve joint pain, improve symptoms of congestive heart failure," and "improve overall well-being." And for more great exercise advice, check out The 15-Second Exercise Trick That Can Change Your Life.

2

It's Also Effective at Targeting Belly Fat

Senior Couple Doing Tai Chi In Park, Tuebingen, Germany

According to the new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, tai chi is also helpful at slimming down and reducing your belly fat. The researchers recruited more than 500 adults with central obesity (or a larger midsection) all over the age of 50 and assigned them to one of three groups: those who performed tai chi, those who performed "conventional exercises" such as brisk walking or strength training, and those who didn't exercise at all. The test ran for a total of 38 weeks, and those who did tai chi or exercised performed three one-hour sessions every week that were led by an instructor. Participants did not vary their diets at all.

3

Here's What the Results Found

group of people practice Tai Chi Chuan in a park. Chinese management skill Qi's energy.

At the end of the study, both the exercisers and those who performed tai chi experienced a loss in body fat around their waist and lost weight overall. Both groups experienced a drop in their high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), though those who performed tai chi were better able to maintain that lower cholesterol by the study's end. The study concludes with a single sentence: "Tai chi is an effective approach to reduce [waist circumference] in adults with central obesity aged 50 years or older."

4

Do You Want to Try Tai Chi?

A young woman doing Tai Chi by a river

If you'd like to try your hand at tai chi, it's best to seek out professional instruction near you to ensure that you're performing the ancient martial art correctly. But, as you can imagine, there are plenty of instructionals you can find online, as well. According to the health experts at VeryWellFit, you'll find a best-in-class online series by referenceing this video here. It's titled "Tai Chi for Energy," and it's led by Dr. Paul Lam. And for more great fitness tips, don't miss these Secret Tricks for Walking Better Starting Now, Say Experts.

William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more