Many studies show that simple weight-bearing exercise programmes can translate into a 25 – 50 per cent reduction in falls among seniors. One exercise programme that has been shown to help reduce falls among healthy older people is Tai chi.
What is Tai chi?
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese form of martial arts which today has evolved into a form of graceful exercise that involves a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner. Tai chi is considered to be safe for people of all ages as it does not put too much stress on the muscles and joints. It has been shown to have positive effects on balance control, fitness, and flexibility – factors which may contribute to fall prevention.
Although Tai chi’s movements are performed in slow motion, the exercise is actually very dynamic. In an article that appeared in ‘Harvard Health Publications’ of Harvard Medical School, Dr Peter Wayne, founder and director of the Tree of Life Tai Chi Center and co-author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi stated,
As an aerobic workout, Tai chi is roughly the equivalent of a brisk walk (depending on the intensity at which you perform it). And as a resistance training routine, some studies have found it similar to more vigorous forms of weight training.”
How does Tai chi help improve balance?
Tai chi helps improve balance because it targets all the physical components needed to stay upright—leg strength, flexibility, range of motion, and reflexes—all of which tend to decline with age. In addition, anyone who’s had a fall or who has instability has a ‘fear of falling”, which in itself is one of the biggest predictors of a fall. Tai chi helps to reduce that fear, making individuals more aware of both their internal bodies and the external world, and giving them a better sense of position in space.This reduces the likelihood of tripping and falling when simultaneously talking and walking.
Is it true that people of any age can do Tai chi?
There are many reasons why Tai chi is an ideal form of exercise, especially for older people. It can be adapted to every age and fitness level and is a safe form of exercise for older people who have chronic diseases. Because it has “zero impact” it doesn’t strain ageing bones and joints. Activities can gradually be ramped up to suit an individual’s level of fitness and function.
If you’re interested in beginning Tai chi, look for classes in your neighbourhood. There are different styles and approaches to Tai chi, and you should find classes that you feel best suit your learning style.