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Could tai chi reduce the risk of falls in older adults?

A recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society investigates tai chi as a way to reduce the risk of falling among older adults. This ancient art could help to improve the lives of modern at-risk individuals.

Falls are a serious risk for older adults. According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the “leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans.”

In the elderly population of the United States, 17.6 percent reported between one and five falls in the previous 3 months – 6 percent of which were serious.

One study Trusted Source concluded that the issue appears to be getting worse; self-reported falls among adults aged 65 or older increased from 28.2 percent in 1998 to 36.3 percent in 2010.

Because of the size of the problem and the aging population of Western countries, a fair quantity of research has gone into identifying potential interventions that might help to minimize this worrying problem.

Earlier studies have shown that light physical activity can reduce the rate – but not necessarily the risk – of falls. A 2012 Cochrane review concluded, “Group and home-based exercise programs, usually containing some balance and strength training exercises, effectively reduced falls.”

An ancient art in a modern setting

Recently, researchers led by Rafael Lomas-Vega, Ph.D., of the University of Jaén in Spain, set out to analyze previous research investigating tai chi as a way of reducing falls in older adults.

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice. Its exact origins are buried in the mists of time, but it may date back as far as the 12th century. Although initially created as a martial art, there are now a number of different forms.

In the West, the most familiar form is not focused on self-defense, consisting of slow, measured movements; it is designed to improve whole-body coordination and flexibility.

Because tai chi is said to improve balance, proprioception (a sense of one’s position in space), and flexibility, all while being low impact, it is the perfect candidate for use by older adults.

Although this intervention has been tested and reviewed before, earlier reviews had certain limitations. For instance, they did not analyze short-term and long-term effects, and they chose to focus on the number of fallers rather than an individual’s rate of falls.

The authors of the current study outline their focus:

Tai chi benefits

In all, the team analyzed and combined data from 10 good quality studies. Interventions ranged from 12 to 26 weeks, and all involved 1-hour sessions that took place between one and three times per week. Participants were aged between 56 and 98. When compared with other activities, such as low-intensity exercise and physical therapy, tai chi fared well. ……. …. Continue Reading…….. …… …………..

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