One of the key benefits of tai chi is shown by a 2016 study of its impact on preventing falls in older adults. The analysis took in 18 trials looking at 3,824 participants with an average age of 65. This article summarises some of the key findings. We have included a reference to the full results at the end of the article.
Falls are common and can have significant consequences for older adults
Falls are common in older adults; worldwide 30-40% of people over 65 fall every year, increasing to c50% among people over 80. Falls can lead to a reduction in mobility, independence and quality of life and are a leading cause of death in older adults.
The impact of tai chi
Tai chi has been shown to be effective in improving balance, proprioception, muscle strength and endurance which is why it was considered for these studies.
This review showed that tai chi significantly reduced the number of fallers (by 20%) and the rate of falls (by 31%) and predicted that the preventative effect of tai chi was likely to increase if more frequent tai chi sessions were undertaken.
Integrating tai chi into daily life
This is excellent news as tai chi is a low-cost activity, accessible to most older adults. It can be practiced in many locations including at home. Guidance from an experienced tai chi teacher is crucial as people begin to learn tai chi. The nature of the exercise is that it can be practiced regularly at home (or if you’re brave, in the park) between lessons.
We end with a thought from Dr Rome Lauche of the University of Technology in Sydney and the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine, who wasn’t involved in the study, “For frail elderly patients who can’t go to the gym and conduct conventional exercises, or those with a preference towards relaxing mind/body interventions, the slow and flowing nature of tai chi might be the right choice. For patients who have already fallen, it is important to undergo a medical examination first.”
Primary reference: Huang Z, Feng Y, Li Y, et al, Systematic review and meta-analysis: Tai Chi for preventing falls in older adults, BMJ Open 2017;7: e013661. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-013661