Tai Chi and Improving Balance in Older Adults

A popular activity for physical fitness that has recently stepped into the spotlight in the therapy community is Tai Chi. Tai Chi originated in China and has been practiced there for generations. In recent years, it has gained traction as a style of exercise that not only has the traditional health benefits such as lowering blood pressure but also can help reduce fall risk, especially in the older population. Improved balance has even been noted when practicing Tai Chi at its most basic level. Another plus to Tai Chi, is that it can be practiced in the comfort of your own home.

The movements in basic Tai Chi are very gentle, and often require us to use muscles we didn’t even think we had. Muscles, incidentally, that are essential to maintaining our balance on a daily basis.   Because of this, Tai Chi has been shown to reduce risk of falls in all populations, specifically in older adults, by utilizing a regimen of wide stance movements, (strengthening those little muscle groups that are key for maintaining balance) and stretching that keeps the body limber and allows for more natural walking. Because of Tai Chi’s emphasis on controlled breathing, the activity has also been shown to improve how we breathe, reducing your chances of becoming short of breath.

You can find Tai Chi programs and exercises just about anywhere, especially with the use of the internet and fitness videos that can be viewed from your living room. If you’re out shopping, DVDs are also an excellent resource as you can usually find videos with classes at your local supermarket. But if you don’t consider yourself very tech savvy or would rather not sift through piles of DVDs, you can always discuss Tai Chi with your local physical therapist! Most, if not all, physical therapists understand the benefits of Tai Chi and will likely be able to point you in the right direction for classes or teach you the exercises themselves in a safe environment! Here are a couple of things to keep in mind if you’re practicing at home:

  • Make sure you have a wide-open space, too much clutter can result in bumping into objects and possibly tripping!
  • A yoga mat makes a good space for these exercises, as it tends to feel comfortable and will result in less impact on your joints.
  • Take your time! These exercises are all about breathing and meditation, go slow and steady for the best results.

Confidence is one of the most important factors for reducing the risk of falls. Research shows that the more confident we are in our balance, the less likely falls are to occur. One of the best ways to improve confidence is to give yourself options to better yourself. So, if you’re thinking of getting back into exercise for your New Year’s resolution or just want to be safer around the house and in your community, consider giving Tai Chi a try and experience the difference!

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