Tai Chi Helps Seniors Avoid Falls

If seniors want to fend off falling, then tai chi might be the best way to do it, according to a new study.

Researchers in Oregon compared the benefits of strength training and aerobics to tai chi and found that the oriental martial art prevented falls about 30% better in a one to one comparison.

“This tai chi program better addressed the deficits that were contributing to fall risk,” said senior researcher Kerri Winters-Stone, a professor with the Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing.

Co-researcher Peter Harmer, professor of exercise and health science with Willamette University in Salem, Oregon said that tai chi has always been considered a potential source of improved health and well-being for seniors.

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art which uses graceful movements which teaches people to flow smoothly between different postures slowly and with concentration. The body stays in constant motion and the practitioners must often challenge their balance.

Every year about 28% of all seniors report falling, with about 40% of them resulting in injuries bad enough to require a visit to the ER, hospitalization, and sometimes even death.

“Falling in adults age 65 and older is significantly associated with loss of independence, premature mortality and big health care costs,” Harmer said.

Tai chi movements are performed in all directions in contrast to other kinds of exercises which focus almost exclusively on forward and backward movements.

“The reality of how falls happen tends to be quite varied and a bit unpredictable. In tai chi, the movements are in these multiple planes,” Winters-Stone said. “You’re moving your body outside of your center of gravity and then you’re pulling it back. There’s a lot of postural responses.

“If you accidentally started to fall, if you had been trained in tai chi you would probably be better at starting to counteract that movement and regain your balance,” Winters-Stone continued.

Since tai chi incorporates upwards of 100 different movements which can be hard for seniors to learn, the research team developed a simpler form of tai chi that focuses on eight basic movements most related to preventing falls. The program is trademarked and called: Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance.