To keep sick days at bay, trade your vitamin C in for a dose of tai chi. It's cheaper, more effective (revving up your body's disease-fighting defenses by as much as 47 percent), and even triples the protection you get from a flu shot. The secret to tai chi's elixir-like quality, scientists suspect, lies in its slow movements and controlled breathing. Tai chi then marshals the power of both to fight germs. It also zaps stress and helps you to sleep better—both key to a healthy immune system. Get started today with our no-sweat 20-minute routine—you don't even need to change.
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How It's Done
What you'll need: A clutter-free area, about 5 square feet. Tai chi can be done barefoot or in flat, flexible shoes; loose or stretchy, comfortable clothing is ideal.
What to do: Perform the routine 3 to 7 times a week. From the beginning stance, you'll repeat the sequence for 20 minutes, and then do the final move.
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How to do it: Think of tai chi as a graceful, slow dance. Try each move separately, then link them together into one long sequence. You won't alternate sides like typical workouts.
For best results: Don't worry about hand or feet movements being exact. Tai chi is most effective when you're relaxed.
For more: Find a tai chi class at worldtaichiday.org, or try the DVD Element: Tai Chi for Beginners (collagevideo.com).
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Stand tall with feet about shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward, and knees bent slightly. Arms and hands are relaxed at sides. Look straight ahead and tuck pelvis slightly to drop tailbone toward floor (A). Touch tip of tongue to roof of mouth to relax jaw. Inhale through nose. Pause for a second, and then exhale through mouth, drawing navel to spine. Repeat for 3 to 5 breaths. Breathe in this manner as you continue.
Circle & Strike Palm
A. From the beginning stance, inhale as you circle hands up in front of you, as if stroking an enormous pregnant belly, to chin height, palms facing down.
B. At the same time, shift weight to left leg, bend left knee slightly, and raise right heel off floor, rotating foot slightly outward.
C. Exhale, lower hands to about waist height, shift weight to right leg, bend right knee slightly, and raise left heel.
D. Inhale and circle hands out to sides. Exhale as hands come around in front of chest as if they are going to clap, right hand closest to you.
E. Simultaneously raise left foot and lightly place left heel on floor in front of you, foot flexed.
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Grasp & Stroke BirdF. Inhale, reach both hands up diagonally to right (grasp bird), and tap left toes on floor behind you.
G. Exhale and swoop arms down in an arc (stroke bird) as you step right foot next to left one, turning your body to face slightly left. Continue circling hands up until they're in front of chin, palms facing forward.
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Pushing & Gathering Energy
H. Inhale, rotate torso, and step right foot to right, foot flexed and heel touching floor.
I. Exhale and shift weight onto right leg (knee bends slightly) as left heel comes off floor and arms straighten, as if pressing away a heavy object.
J. On the next inhale, step back to beginning stance (A). Repeat the sequence, moving in the same direction, for 20 minutes. (Even 5 minutes is beneficial if you don't have much time.)
Bring feet together and inhale as you circle arms (palms up) out to sides and overhead. Exhale and slowly lower hands down in front of torso, palms down, elbows bent, so arms end at sides.