A significant fear for ageing adults is falling, and with good reason. Falls in the elderly can be caused by seemingly harmless household items, like slipping on rugs or stairs. It could also be related to serious factors, like
- changes in gait and balance
- weakened muscles
- weakened eyesight
- Vitamin D deficiency
- drinking alcohol
Some of these factors – specifically muscle weakness, gait, balance and even dementia – can be improved with exercise. In fact, a new study has found that an ancient Chinese martial art form; Tai Chi, can provide significantly greater improvements in these areas.
The study involved a group of 670 people of an average age of 77. Participants were included if they had fallen within a year of the study or if they had movement impairments. The participants were divided into 3 groups, each doing a different type of exercise.
One group practised two 60-minute weekly classes for 24 weeks of tai ji quan, a standardised, therapeutic form of Tai Chi; the others practised therapeutic movement exercises integrating balance, aerobics, strength, and flexibility activities; or stretching exercises.
The researchers found that after six months, the group that had practised Tai Chi experienced far less falls than the other groups.
Tai Chi and its benefits
An ancient form of Chinese martial arts, Tai Chi, combines deep breathing with slow, rhythmical movement of the body and limbs, keeping the centre of the body balanced. It’s evolved into a popular form of exercise worldwide.
Betters your balance
Significant evidence from studies conducted worldwide shows that Tai Chi, because of its focus on squatting and shifting body weight from foot to foot, improves a person’s ability to balance, builds muscle strength, and can ease the pain and weakness associated with osteoporosis.
Lifts your mood
The art form’s meditative aspect also helps to reduce stress, depression and anxiety, benefiting heart health. The movements also help to build the two largest muscle groups – glutes and quadriceps – in the body.
Reduces your fear
Another benefit of Tai Chi is that it lessens your fear of falling, as practising it improves proprioception: an awareness of the position of the body in space, and the ability to negotiate uneven surfaces.
Is Tai Chi for me?
Tai Chi is an accessible form of exercise, and you don’t have to be fit or a specific age to start it. It’s an appropriate exercise for older people as it’s easy on your joints and muscles and can be easily adapted for people with disabilities.
Speak to your doctor before starting any exercise programme. Those with advanced osteoporosis, a hernia or severe back pain may need to avoid some movements. Inform your instructor if you have any problems, so positions and movements can accommodate you.