Researchers in Taiwan have found that Tai Chi can be effective in reducing the risk of falls in seniors, a leading cause of injury in older adults. 

As one of the main causes of serious injuries in older adults, preventing falls could also prevent further health problems, as well as hospitalization, nursing home admission, and even death. Many existing health conditions can contribute to the risk of a fall including arthritis, heart disease, muscle weakness, vision and balance problems, and dementia.

In the study researchers from Taipei Medical University, Taiwan, compared the effectiveness of tai chi, a traditional Chinese form of exercise, to a physical therapy called “lower extremity training,” or LET, which involves leg-strengthening exercises, in reducing falls in seniors.

The team recruited 368 participants aged 60 and over who had all previously received medical attention for a fall and split them into two groups. One group received individual one-hour tai chi classes every week for six months, and the other received individual, one-hour LET sessions, also every week for six months.

The tai chi classes combined postures and gentle movements with breathing and relaxation, as well as weight shifting and leg stepping movements. LET sessions included stretching, muscle strengthening, and balance training.

Participants were asked to complete at least 80 percent of the instructor-led sessions as well as practise their assigned therapy at home every day during the six-month program and during the 12-month follow-up. They also kept a diary during this time recording any falls.

The researchers saw that after the six-months of sessions, those who had been practising tai chi were significantly less likely to experience an injury-causing fall than those who had been practising LET. The results could even be seen a year after attending the sessions, with those who had attended the tai chi classes 50 percent less likely to experience an injury-causing fall a year later than those who attended the LET classes. Practising seven days a week at home also gave even greater results. 

The team also saw that cognitive function improved more in the tai chi group than in the LET group.

Commenting on how seniors can incorporate tai chi into their lives, Mau-Roung Lin, one of the co-authors of the study, advises that seniors should start by learning tai chi and its movements in a class, but also practise the movements at home at least once a day.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.


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