Tai chi is a “soft” Chinese martial art that dates back to 1000–2000 BC. The emphasis of the practice is on slow, flowing movements that emphasize precision and force. The goal is to create relaxation and meditation and is primarily practiced for dealing with tension and stress.
The principle benefit of Tai Chi is improved balance and body awareness. Tai Chi has been shown to reduce the risk of falls in older people that contribute to fractures. In a 1996 journal of the American Geriatric Society, one study found that older adults participating in a 15-week Tai Chi program reduced their risk of falling by 47.5%. Another study in the journal showed that a continued program of tai chi can help preserve improvements in strength from other exercise programs. The journal noted that relatively “low tech” approaches “should not be overlooked in the search for ways to prevent disability and maintain physical performance in late life.”
Studies on benefits other than balance improvement from Tai Chi have not been conclusive. Researchers examined 35 reviews[i] to evaluate whether there was any improvement of medical conditions or symptoms using Tai Chi. They looked at studies on muscle strength, flexibility, bone mineral density, fall prevention and balance. They found clear evidence that Tai Chi is effective for fall prevention and balance, as well as improving psychological health; but the evidence for other benefits was contradictory.
Tai Chi classes are available in many senior centers and YMCAs around the country. Check for one in your neighborhood.
[i] Lee MS, MH Pittler, B-C Shin, E Ernst. Tai chi for osteoporosis: a systematic review…evidence from controlled clinical trials testing the effectiveness of tai chi for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis International, 2008, Volume 19, Number 2, Pages 139-146.
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