Tai Chi Offers Benefits from Preventing Falls to Peace of Mind
Modern medicine has given us many gifts that help us stay healthy and active as we grow older. In the last couple of decades, however, some medical researchers have been examining older approaches and therapies that have stood the test of time. One of them is Tai Chi. Dr. Peter Wayne, an assistant professor of medicine and research director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Harvard Medical School, has extensively investigated Tai Chi’s benefits.
Tai Chi is especially effective in preventing falls, says Dr. Wayne, the author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, published in 2013 by Harvard Health Publications. It increases leg strength, flexibility, range of motion and reflexes—the key components needed to keep your balance. In fact, practicing Tai Chi can reduce the incidence of falling by up to 45 percent, Dr. Wayne says. Not only that, his research has suggested that Tai Chi may reduce the rates of bone mineral density decline, especially in older women, helping to lower the risk of fractures.
Ingleside at King Farm resident George teaches a weekly Tai Chi class in the Activity room and says balance is a key benefit. The community offers a seated Tai Chi class as well.
“Tai Chi was known at one time in China as one-legged boxing,” George says. “You spend a large percentage of time with your weight on one leg or the other, so you learn how to balance on that one leg.”
Tai Chi also increases flexibility, especially in the hip joints and waist. In addition, it is calming and relaxing, says George, who has been practicing Tai Chi for about 10 years. His classes are very popular; there’s a waiting list of about a dozen people.
“We’re going to try and accommodate them when we restart the class in January,” George says.
One of the most significant factors that can influence balance is the fear of falling, Dr. Wayne says. Studies have shown that restricting activity, a common consequence of fear of falling, can actually increase the likelihood that you will fall. Part of the reason why is that restricting your activity can lead to muscle and bone weakness, lack of flexibility, and loss of balance. Fear of falling makes you tense up and can distract you while you are moving.
The slow, even tempo with which Tai Chi is performed utilizes multiple muscle groups, focuses your awareness on your movement and enhances coordination. Perhaps most important, Tai Chi reduces the fear of falling by enhancing relaxation, body awareness and confidence from better strength and coordination, Dr. Wayne writes.
Students who practice Tai Chi experience many other benefits as well, including reduced fatigue and pain, strengthening the heart and cardiovascular system, reduction of stress, deepening and enrichment of breathing, sharpening of the mind, improvement of psychological well-being and better quality of sleep.
People who begin Tai Chi classes later in life discover that the movements are easily done. Although the movements are gentle and virtually without impact, Tai Chi is considered a low- to moderate aerobic activity, depending on how you perform it. Dr. Wayne believes it is safe and appropriate for people of all ages and fitness levels. It can even be beneficial to people who use wheelchairs and those who have chronic conditions ranging from cardiovascular disease to Parkinson’s.
Ingleside at King Farm also offers classes in yoga, as well as a range of fitness classes from water aerobics to Zumba. Our commitment is to provide a wide variety of activities that enhance not only fitness, but all of the facets of life that keep our residents lively and engaged in body, mind and spirit.
If you’d like to learn more about what this unique Continuing Care Retirement Community has to offer, please join us at one of our upcoming events, call us at 240.205.7085, or request information here.