Older adults who do tai chi are MUCH less likely to suffer falls

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Older adults who do tai chi are MUCH less likely to suffer dangerous falls, study finds

  • Tai chi is a Chinese form of exercise that practices slow, flowing movements to keep the body in motion and to practice balance
  • In a small study, scientists split older adults into three exercise groups
  • Adults who practiced tai chi were 58 percent less likely to experience falls compared to those who just perform stretching exercises
  • Researchers say one in three adults aged 65 or older report having fallen - and 38 percent of these falls lead to injuries
  • Older adults who practice tai chi are less likely to fall, a small new study suggests.

Researchers said that elderly people who practiced the martial art were more than 50 percent less likely to suffer a fall than those who just performed stretching exercises.

Around one in three US adults aged 65 or older report having fallen - and 38 percent of these falls lead to injuries that can result in ER visits, hospitalization, or death.

The team, led by researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing, says it hopes the findings lead to more older adults taking up the practice to prevent themselves from experiencing large hospital bills, a loss of independence or premature death.

Developed in China in the 1670s, tai chi was first formed as a self-defense technique but has since evolved into a form of exercise.

It combines slow, flowing movements along with deep breathing to keep the body moving and to practice balance.

Tai chi is often recommended for older adults because it is a low impact exercise that puts little to no stress on the joints or muscles.

There has been some evidence in past research that shows tai chi can help reduce falls.

A 2012 study from the Oregon Research Institute found that tai chi was the best exercise in treating balance issues in adults with Parkinson's disease.

And a 2012 review of 159 trials found that the martial art was the most successful exercise in reducing the risk of falling.

Additionally, a 2014 review also found that tai chi reduced the fear of falling in adults living in retirement communities.

For the current study, the team looked at 670 Oregonians who were 78 years old on average over the span of 24 weeks.

To participate, the adults either had to have fallen once in the last 12 months and have a clinician's referral to being at risk of falls, or have impaired mobility

They were then assigned to one of three exercise groups: tai chi; stretching exercise; or multimodal exercise, which incorporates balance, aerobics and flexibility.

Researchers found that after six months, the tai chi group was 58 percent less likely to experience falls compared to the stretching group and 31 percent less likely compared to the multimodal exercise group.

In total, 733 falls were recorded among the participants. There were 85 falls in the tai chi group compared to 112 in the multimodal exercise group, and 127 in the stretching group.

'Not falling is a pretty complex physiological behavior,' co-author Dr Peter Harmer, a professor of exercise and health science at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, told HealthDay.

He told the website that regaining balance requires a combination of muscle strength along with feedback from your eyes and ears.

'Tai chi directly challenges the integration of all those things,' he said.

Dr Harmer also added that while traditional exercises focus on up and down movement, tai chi involves multi-directional movement.

Despite the marked evidence of tai chi's benefits, Dr Nathan LeBrasseur, of the physical medicine and rehabilitation department at the Mayo Clinic, told HealthDay that older adults can still benefit if they stick to traditional exercise.

'I would not discourage people who are actively participating in a strength and aerobic exercise program to throw in the towel and say: "Now I need to do tai chi",' said Dr LeBrasseur, who did not work on the study.

'The real challenge is getting people to adopt and stick to an exercise program.'

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