The majority of active seniors want to stay independent as they age. While 71% of seniors say they commonly read and many others say they regularly garden, watch TV, and pursue religious activities, there’s a particular activity that could provide a host of health benefits for those over 50: Tai Chi.
This Chinese martial arts form is different from others in that it’s performed slowly with deliberate postures. While it can be practiced for self-defense, it’s also commonly used to improve balance. It does provide other health benefits as well; considering that one-hour of moderate intensity martial arts activity can burn up to 500 calories, it’s no surprise that many seniors who practice Tai Chi are able to maintain their weight and reduce the effects of other health conditions.
But the balance improving component is what appeals most to many seniors and caregivers. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an older adult is transported to the emergency room for fall-related injuries every 11 seconds. It’s actually the leading cause of accidental death among individuals over the age of 65. But recent studies have found that practicing Tai Chi could help. In a 2014 analysis of the connection between the martial art and balance, researchers found that the “practice was beneficial to improve balance control ability and flexibility of older adults, which may be the reason for preventing falls.”
These sentiments are echoed by Peter M. Wayne, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who told MarketWatch.com: “Across multiple studies, Tai chi appears to reduce the risk of falling by 20% to 45% and is considered one of the best exercises available for ambulatory older adults with balance concerns.”
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative health also agrees that practicing Tai Chi can improve balance and stability for seniors, and a 2011 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine noted the same. This is likely why nursing homes and senior programs all across the nation have started to offer classes to benefit residents. It’s a much gentler approach to exercise that doesn’t require pushing one’s body to the limit. It’s also found to be beneficial to one’s psychological health, which is an added plus for senior minds. The Mayo Clinic reports that Tai Chi can actually lower anxiety and depression, boost energy levels, strengthen the muscles, improve flexibility, and lower blood pressure rates. And according to InsideElderCare.com, Tai Chi may even promote faster recovery following strokes or heart attacks and improve the lives of patients with dementia diseases.
The truth is that just about anyone can benefit from the positive effects of Tai Chi. But this practice is of particular use to seniors who want to prevent future falls and keep their minds sharp.