Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Try tai chi to improve balance, avoid fall

Compared to the pumping intensity of Zumba, Tai Chi looks like it’s performed in slow motion. Watching the gentle, graceful movements of this ancient Chinese practice, it’s hard to imagine that it can burn off a single calorie or strengthen muscles. But Tai Chi is actually far more dynamic than it looks.

"The slowness that you see from the outside is deceptive. As an aerobic workout, Tai Chi is roughly the equivalent of a brisk walk (depending on the intensity at which you perform it). And as a resistance training routine, some studies have found it similar to more vigorous forms of weight training," says Dr. Wayne, co-author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi.

Tai Chi and Balance

With its integrative approach that strengthens the body while focusing the mind, Tai Chi addresses a range of physical and mental health issues—including bone strength, joint stability, cardiovascular health, immunity, and emotional well-being. Tai Chi is especially useful for improving balance and preventing falls—a major concern for older adults.

Studies have shown Tai Chi to reduce falls in seniors by up to 45%. It can also improve balance in people with neurological problems. A recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine found the program particularly effective for balance in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Tai Chi helps improve balance because it targets all the physical components needed to stay upright—leg strength, flexibility, range of motion, and reflexes — all of which tend to decline with age.

Interestingly, one of Tai Chi’s biggest benefits to stability isn’t physical—but emotional.

Anyone who’s had a fall or who has instability has what we call a ‘fear of falling. Ironically, a fear of falling is one of the biggest predictors of a fall. By making you firmer on your feet, Tai Chi takes away that fear. Tai Chi also makes you more aware of both your internal body and the external world, giving you a better sense of your position in space, so you won’t be as likely to trip and fall if you try to simultaneously talk to a friend and navigate a busy sidewalk.

Getting started with Tai Chi

One of the best things about Tai Chi is its adaptability to every age and fitness level. I have students in their late 80s. Because Tai Chi has “zero impact,” it doesn’t put too much strain on aging bones and joints. But it’s not by any means something that’s only for the elderly, and it can be quite demanding for the young.

You can start Tai Chi at most levels of health, and you can ramp up your activities to be appropriate to your level of fitness and function. 

Tai Chi is also incredibly safe—even for people who are older and have chronic diseases. 

I have been teaching Tai Chi in the Wiregrass since 2000. Interested, Curious ? Please come watch or participate in a FREE class. Call me at (334) 798 1639 or email me at frederic.lecut@gmail.com.

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