Worried About Elder Falls? How Tai Chi Can Help SeniorsWorried About Elder Falls - How Tai Chi Can Help Seniors

Fear of falling is common as we get older, and with good reason. One third of people over age 65 fall each year, and 2.5 million of them need emergency room care for fall-related injuries like broken hips, broken wrists, and head trauma. But fear can make us more sedentary, which can lead to strength and balance problems that make falls more likely. One way out of this cycle is to take tai chi classes. In The Gift of Caring, geriatrician Elizabeth Eckstrom writes that regular tai chi practice can reduce seniors’ falls risk by half. If you’re not already taking tai chi classes, it’s time to learn more about this senior-friendly, low-impact martial art.

What is tai chi?

People have practiced tai chi in one form or another for centuries in China, and now there are tai chi classes in communities around the world. Despite its combat-training origins, tai chi includes many slow, flowing movements that are ideal for seniors. These slow movement sequences are why geriatric experts and the Centers for Disease Control recommend tai chi to reduce the risk of falls and increase confidence.

Where to find tai chi classes for seniors

In his book, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, Dr. Peter Wayne recommends shopping around to find the best tai chi class for you. Visit a few classes, check the internet for highly rated instructors near you, and ask your friends and neighbors if they take classes. Look for experienced teachers who are happy to accommodate any physical limitations you have and who have students who’ve been with them for a while.

The most common places to find tai chi classes are YMCA centers, senior centers, and hospitals with on-site wellness programs. If you live near a college or university, the school may offer tai chi through its community education program. In larger cities, you’ll usually find at least one studio or school that focuses on tai chi.

What you’ll need for class

The great thing about tai chi is that you don’t need any special equipment. Clothes you can move in freely and comfortable shoes are about it. If you’ve fallen before or if you’re under a doctor’s care for a health condition, talk to them first before you get started. In some cases, your doctor may recommend that you avoid or modify certain movements. If so, share that information with your instructor. Beyond that, all you need is a willingness to be patient with yourself as you learn.

Beyond better balance—other health benefits of tai chi

Tai chi can help improve health in many ways, according to research compiled by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. They include reduced anxiety, reduced pain caused by arthritis of the knee, fibromyalgia, and back problems. Tai chi has been shown to improve stamina, reduce shortness of breath, and boost mood in people living with heart failure, as well.

Dr. Eckstrom recommends that seniors aim for one to 3 hours a week of gentle tai chi practice. Three hours may sound like a lot, but it’s an investment in your health, your peace of mind, and your ability to keep moving safely.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.


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