Falls are a serious problem for older adults, often leading to serious injury, loss of independence, and even death. Regular exercise can help build muscle strength and help prevent falls for seniors. However, not every older adult can handle a rigorous exercise routine like high intensity interval training. So how can seniors safely practice low-impact exercise that could reduce their risk of falling and improve balance? Research tells us that tai chi is the perfect answer.
What is Tai Chi?
Tai chi, an ancient Chinese martial art practice, can be described as a series of slow, thoughtful movements of the arms, hands and neck while practicing deep breathing. In fact, it can even be practiced while sitting in a chair. It is easily customized for any range of movement—and senior fitness organizations are noticing. This ancient gentle, slow practice is already being used as a balance training practice in many senior centers and senior living communities around the world.
Benefits of Tai Chi
The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society confirmed that tai chi is a great option for exercise to lower older people’s risk of falling. Researchers from the University of Jaén in Spain examined the data and found that tai chi significantly reduced the rate of falls by 43 percent compared with other interventions at less than 12 months and by 13 percent at more than 12 months. Some evidence showed that tai chi reduced fall risk by 50 percent over the short term and by 28 percent over the long term.
Tai Chi is also an effective exercise for stroke rehabilitation. Half of the 160 participants in a study out of Kunming, China were randomly assigned randomly to receive post-stroke rehabilitation through a seated tai chi practice that they did in their homes by watching a video.
“Tai Chi has a long history as a form of exercise in China. We revised the Tai Chi movements for people who have weakness or partial limb paralysis. It is tailored so that participants can move one arm with the help of the healthy arm,” said Jie Zhao, Ph.D., lead researcher and lecturer from Yunnan University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Yunnan, China.
But the benefits of tai chi don’t end there! Here are seven ways that a regular tai chi practice could improve health.
Even though it uses slow, gentle movements, tai chi has been found to increase muscle strength.
Tai chi has been shown to fight depression and anxiety in older adults.
Tai chi can be a good exercise for people with chronic heart conditions like congestive heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Some studies show tai chi helps lower stress.
Consult your doctor before you begin any new exercise routine. You may want to choose an instructor who is trained in directing people with limited mobility or previous injuries.
Tai chi is often practiced in groups. You may be able to find a class at your local senior center or Chinese cultural center.