Tai Chi Exercise Improves Balance, Mobility in Elderly
Elderly women who participate in weekly tai chi classes may have better balance and mobility and reduced fear of falling, according to a new study in Applied Nursing Research (2002;15:235–42). This may lead to fewer falls, which could result in greater independence and self-care among the elderly.
Tai chi is a type of martial art that was developed in the middle of the seventeenth century. The practice of tai chi consists of slow, continuous movements of the whole body that are executed in a relaxed manner, while maintaining an upright posture. There are five main styles of tai chi, each named after the people who founded this art. Depending on the style, the number of movements may range from 20 to over 100. Many people who practice tai chi report improved mental and physical relaxation, joint mobility, and sense of well being. This new study validates some of the reported benefits of regular tai chi exercise.
In the new study, 45 women over the age of 65 who were living in an assisted care facility participated in structured tai chi classes for three months. Classes were held twice a week for 30 minutes. The style of tai chi was an adapted form developed specifically for the elderly. All participants were monitored for three months prior to starting tai chi classes to establish their baseline characteristics. Measurements of balance, functional mobility, and fear of falling were taken initially, at the end of the three-month control period, and at the conclusion of the study.
Significant improvements were observed in balance, functional mobility, and fear of falling after the completion of the tai chi classes. Compliance with the exercise program was high and no adverse effects were reported. Several of the participants who had previously used walking canes no longer required them while walking indoors. However, three women who required walkers were unable to complete the study due to complaints of back pain. The authors suggest that a modified form of tai chi exercises (such as in water for extra support) may allow some individuals to participate who would not otherwise be able to do so.
The results of this study are similar to those of previously published studies. One study showed that 15 weeks of tai chi classes reduced the fear of falling in a group of people living in a retirement home, but did not affect their balance. Another study found that elderly people who practiced tai chi for a year had a lower risk of falling. Learning tai chi may help elderly people perform their daily activities with a greater degree of self-confidence, thereby improving their quality of life and allowing them to maintain their independence.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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