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Improve balance and reduce the risk of falling with Tai Chi

Recent scientific studies support the use of Tai Chi to reduce the risk of falling and improve balance and function.

I know how important good balance is for secure feeling while moving about. Surprisingly, the ancient art of Tai Chi, a combination of slow body movement, meditation, and breathing has been repeatedly shown to significantly reduce the number of falls, the risk of falling, and the fear of falling while improving balance and physical performance. And this has been seen in persons over the age of 70, some in their 90’s, who were previously sedentary!

Tai Chi (pronounced “tie chee”) is an ancient Chinese discipline that integrates mind, body, and spirit. Performing Tai Chi exercises is a great step towards a balanced, active lifestyle. A recent study published in the Journal of Gerontology followed a group of inactive, community dwelling seniors ages 70 to 92 years old for six months. The previously sedentary group practiced Tai Chi three times per week and proved the program was effective in improving functional balance and physical performance while decreasing the number of falls, the risk of falling, and the fear of falling.

Improvements can occur faster than in six months though. But is takes a lot more effort. A study published in the American College of Sports Medicine journal, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, showed similar improvements to the previous studies after four weeks of 1.5 hour per day, six days per week Tai Chi practice. While this level of involvement is greater than most would devote to a new activity it shows that improvements can happen very quickly. In fact, after four weeks of intensive study that study group improved their balance equal to that of experienced Tai Chi practitioners.

So what exactly is a Tai Chi program? Tai Chi encompasses a broad range of motions from health exercises to martial arts, which make it difficult to define; yet it would be pertinent to say its essential components are slow body movement, meditation, and breathing techniques.

The best way to learn about these essential components in detail is from a certified instructor in private or group classes. The duration of classes vary from thirty to ninety minutes (standard is one hour). If you are unable to find an instructor or do not have access to classes, you can check the library or video store for books or videos about Tai Chi. In both cases, please consult your doctor before starting a program. Once you learn the components and exercises just 30 minutes of practice a day will contribute to maintaining better balance accompanied with an overall healthier body and less fear for falling.

Written by Dr. Sternlicht for on 09.16.05