This Gentle Exercise Is Proven to Help Prevent Falls in Seniors

This ancient Chinese practice can help seniors not only boost their fitness, it can improve their balance and coordination and prevent dangerous falls.

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Any type of fall can be scary, whether you’re two-years-old or 70. However, when it comes to the elderly population, the chances of falling can be greatly reduced, thanks to the practice of tai chi. It’s also one of the top ways to reduce stress and protect the heart.

According to a study led by Rafael Lomas-Vega, PhD, of the University of Jaén—recently published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society—tai chi greatly reduces senior’s risk of any fall by 43 percent within their first year of studying the practice. This percentage was higher than other interventions, such as physical therapy.

Tai chi also seemed to prevent falls that lead to injury by 50 percent in the first few months of the study, and by almost 30 percent over the long term. However, tai chi did not seem to influence when an older or at-risk adult was likely to experience their first injurious fall. Overall, the study concluded that falling is a primary cause of traumatic death for older adults, and picking up tai chi may help protect senior citizens against (potential) falls. Watch for these nine signs that your elderly parents shouldn’t be living alone.

Joe Feuerstein, MD, director of Integrative Medicine at Stamford Hospital, “100 percent” agrees with this study. He himself practices and advocates tai chi to patients.

“Tai chi is a form of moving meditation and martial art that originates in China and is part of the world of traditional Chinese medicine,” he explains. “It’s as good as physical therapy in terms of improving balance and proprioception—how your body knows where your joints are in space. Plus, it allows you to quiet and calm your mind. Physical therapy doesn’t usually have that effect.”

Additionally, the Mayo Clinic describes tai chi as, “a graceful form of exercise that’s now used for stress reduction and a variety of other health conditions. Often described as ‘meditation in motion,’ Tai chi promotes serenity through gentle, flowing movements.”

Dr. Feuerstein has seen first-hand the benefits of tai chi in seniors. He has practied it weekly at a center for over a decade, sometimes alongside his own patients. “One female patient of mine went three times per week and reported much better balance and no falling since cultivating this practice.”

Adds Dr. Feuerstein: “Tai chi helps to lower your center of balance, which is linked to being more stable on your feet and, therefore, less likely to fall. It’s good medicine.”

Another reason to have mom and dad consider enrolling in a tai chi class? According to The New England Journal of Medicine Tai chi is effective for balance in people with Parkinson’s disease because it targets all the physical components needed to stay upright—leg strength, flexibility, range of motion, and reflexes—all of which tend to decline with age.

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