Health Benefits Of Tai Chi For Seniors

By Kimberly Dawn Neumann

Looking to get fitter without stressing out about it? Learn to go with the flow.

Tai chi, a mind-body exercise rooted in multiple Asian traditions including martial arts, traditional Chinese medicine and philosophy, has become widely recognized as a gentle form of fitness that packs a serious health-promoting punch. With benefits that include better balance, enhanced immunity and improved cognition, it’s also popular with the senior set, thanks to its accessibility and effectiveness.

The research backing up the benefits of practicing tai chi is so extensive that there’s no way to fit it all in this article.

“The benefits cannot be overstated,” says Kirchhoff. “When people practice tai chi, they develop basic athletic qualities like balance, power and strength, stamina, aerobic capacity, agility, flexibility, speed, accuracy and proprioception.”

Tai chi is also clinically proven to be effective as rehabilitation for people with cardiopulmonary conditions and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It can significantly reduce chronic pain for conditions like fibromyalgia and can improve neurological function for people with Parkinson’s disease. It’s also beneficial as physical therapy and pain management for osteoarthritis, encouraging joints to become more flexible and useful as they may have been at a younger age.

Tai chi provides mental benefits, too, which include improved cognition, mood and focus, as well as decreased stress, anxiety and depression. Enhanced sleep quality is another boon.

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Evidence Builds for Tai Chi as Falls Prevention Intervention

By Janice T. Radak

Tai chi, a traditional Chinese mind-body exercise, consists of body rotations, semi-squat positions, and slow, controlled movements. As one moves through the various stances, balance shifts between single- and double-leg support, thereby incorporating gait, balance, and lower-limb strength training all at once. As such, it is well suited to individuals of all ages and is considered an evidence-based exercise prescription option for many health conditions. Indeed, many major healthcare organizations, such as the National Council on Aging and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommend older adults learn tai chi online as a falls prevention.

Although the number of people participating in the practice of tai chi in the United States has grown only nominally since 2008 (from 3.42 million to 3.79 million), evidence continues to mount about its benefit for falls prevention.20

Studies of tai chi and falls risk reduction

2017 meta-analysis shows efficacy. Lomas-Vega and colleagues,21 in a 2017 meta-analysis, examined 10 studies comprising 2,600 participants (age range, 56 to 98 years) who had taken part in hour-long tai chi classes 1 to 3 times a week for 12 to 26 weeks. The researchers found high-quality evidence that participants were able to significantly reduce their risk of falling by 43% over the short term (<12 months) and by 13% over the long term (?12 months) although not significantly. In looking at injurious falls, Lomas-Vega found low-quality evidence that participants were able to reduce their risk of sustaining an injury by 50% over the short term, although that reduction dropped to 28% over the long term. The findings suggest that tai chi, as an intervention, is a better falls preventive intervention than other approaches, such as physical therapy, balance training, resistance exercises, stretching, and yoga.

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Tai chi improves balance, mental health in elderly – study

A review of medical studies gave the thumbs-up to tai chi as a way of preventing falls and improving mental health in the elderly, but does not confirm other claims made for the Chinese martial art.

British and South Korean researchers looked at 35 assessments of tai chi found in English-language, Chinese and Korean databases.

There was “convincingly positive” evidence that, among the elderly, practising tai chi helped sense of balance and boosted psychological wellbeing.

However, the sport “seems to be ineffective” for treating the symptoms of cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, the authors said.

The evidence was contradictory as to whether tai chi improved high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, muscle strength, osteoporosis and other conditions.

Many studies were flawed because they had a poor design or were at high risk of bias. For instance, they enrolled only small numbers of volunteers or lacked an adequate “control” group to ensure a fair comparison.

The overview was conducted by Myeong Soo Lee of the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine in Daejeon, and Edzard Ernst of the University of Exeter, southwestern England.

It appears in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, published by the British Medical Association (BMA).

Tai chi entails regular practice of deep breathing and relaxation techniques, combined with slow and gentle movements.

It is based on tenets in Confucian and Buddhist philosophies that there are two opposing life forces, yin and yang, which govern health.

Ill health results from an imbalance in these forces, but it can be corrected by tai chi, according to these beliefs.