Recently, we wrote about the importance of being proactive in preventing falls, especially at older age when bones can become more fragile and prone to fractures. Exercises that are done standing up and involve gentle and coordinated movements – like tai chi – are an excellent way to help improve strength and balance and keep falls at bay.
When practicing tai chi, smooth gliding movements are performed with the upper body and arms while standing up and shifting the body’s weight in a controlled manner. Deep breathing is done together with the movements, and this is believed to improve the flow of energy known as Qi or life force energy. Tai chi is recommended to help fend off falls with aging, because:
• As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass and it becomes harder to gain strength. Tai chi can help strengthen leg muscles as we get older. Strong leg muscles are important for maintaining balance as they give more control over everyday movements.
• The ligaments around our knees and ankles are important for keeping legs steady when standing, walking or running. Tai chi can help keep those ligaments strong and flexible as we age. This can make walking feel smoother and more controlled.
• Coordination, which tends to worsen as we grow older, is a key component of our body’s balance. Movements in tai chi help practice coordination and can lead to great improvements in time.
• As we age and balance tends to get worse, we can become fearful of falling . This can cause stress during everyday life and avoidance of activities we enjoy. With all of the above benefits, tai chi can help diminish that fear and improve life quality.
Tai chi is convenient to do at home or in parks and recreational centres with others or alone. When done in a group, the benefits can be even stronger. So, if you’re not feeling motivated to start tai chi, ask a buddy or two to join you and hopefully this can get you going. Here are additional sources to help you learn about tai chi’s other health benefits and classes in your area:
• Harvard Health Publications – The Benefits of Tai Chi
• Mayo Clinic – Tai Chi: A Gentle Way to Fight Stress
• New York Times – Tai Chi Benefits Patients with Parkinson’s
• Canadian Tai Chi Academy – Classes
• Tai Chi Ontario – Classes
• Toronto Parks – Classes
Do you have other questions about Tai Chi and falls prevention? Comment in the box below.
By Syed Ali, Kevin Chia, and Dr Luba Slatkovska