Yesterday, while out for my morning walk through the park, I came across a group of seniors practicing tai chi. It was very early, and the birds were singing. But no other sounds could be heard.
I recognized the slow, graceful movements instantly. And I stopped to watch as they all moved in synchronized, quiet motion. If you have never heard of tai chi, it can perhaps best be thought of as a moving form of meditation and yoga combined.
Its popularity in the West has grown in recent years, with many older adults taking classes and forming tai chi groups. But it works for any age. It focuses on measured, steady movements, and is practiced for both its defense training and health benefits, which may also include fall prevention.
Why Fall Prevention Programs Are Necessary
Tai chi has gained attention recently for its potential ability to reduce the risk of falls in seniors. The ancient Chinese exercise requires keen memory and attention to learn the different elements of its physical movements, which can also help with balance.
Unfortunately, balance and the ability to maintain the body’s center of mass decline as we age. In recent years, the financial toll of falls among older adults has been approximately $31.0 billion a year. Beyond the monetary costs, falls can dramatically affect seniors’ lives in ways ranging from depression and loneliness to isolation and dependence on others.
But, there is hope for people who are prone to falling.
How Science Says Tai Chi Could Prevent Falls
New studies have indicated that those who practice tai chi regularly have a 20% lower risk of falling at least once, and a 31% drop in the number of falls. Studies conducted at the Institute for Aging Research have shown that practicing tai chi benefits both balance and mobility by aiding the muscular system, the brain, coordination, and equilibrium.
In 2010, researchers at the institute ran a 12-week intervention program where seniors practiced tai chi once a week. At the end of the trial, the study compared the balance and mobility of those who performed the low-impact activity to seniors who just sat in on the classes. The findings showed that the tai chi group not only improved in balance, but also improved in overall functional ability.
While these studies illustrate tai chi’s benefits for mobility and fall prevention, the advantages could potentially reach far beyond. Research suggests that it also increases cognitive and mental functions and mindfulness.
Tai Chi May Work for You
With all of this information and research to support the benefits of tai chi, I highly recommend it to all of my clients. For anyone who is suffering from balance issues, osteoporosis, joint pain, or loss of muscle, this may be a perfect exercise to regain confidence and strength. Check your local community for tai chi lessons and start your journey toward better balance and strength, to prevent a fall later in life.
Mineo, L., “The Balance in Healthy Aging,” The Harvard Gazette, April 25, 2017;
http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/tai-chi-can-prevent-elderly-from-falls-add-mental-agility/, last accessed July 7, 2017
“Fall Prevention – Can Tai Chi Help Prevent Falls?” Tai Chi for Health; http://www.taichiforhealth.net/prevent-falls/, last accessed July 7, 2017