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Natural Awakenings Jacksonville-St. Augustine AND Greater Daytona Beach

Tai Chi and Fear of Falling

Aug 31, 2023 09:31AM ● By Marie Reeder
Poor balance, reduced strength, flexibility and sensorimotor coordination can contribute to the risk of falling. One of the methods used in fall prevention consists of increasing muscular strength and improving body balance. Tai chi, a Chinese martial art, has been used for centuries as a fitness exercise. It offers substantial potential benefits, particularly in reducing the incidence of falls.

Dr. Peter Wayne, research director of the Osher Center for Tai Chi and Mind-Body Research at Harvard Medical School, says, “When you observe tai chi, the slowness that you see from the outside can be deceptive.”

Stephanie Watson, executive editor of Harvard Women’s Health Watch, advises, “Compared to the pumping intensity of spin or Zumba, a tai chi class looks like it’s being performed in slow motion. Watching the gentle, graceful movements of this ancient Chinese practice, it’s hard to imagine that tai chi can burn off a single calorie or strengthen muscles.”

However, according to Wayne, tai chi is roughly the equivalent of a brisk walk (depending on the intensity). As a resistance training routine, some studies have found it similar to more vigorous forms of weight training. 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.

Wayne points to a study by Fuzhong Li at the Oregon Research Institute that evaluated 256 elderly people from 70 to 92 years old, to compare how they benefited from tai chi and seated exercise, respectively. “They reported greater than a 40 percent reduction in the number of falls in the group that received tai chi,” according to Wayne. “This is a very significant finding. Older people with thinning bones are at very high risk for fractures; a fall related to hip fracture, for example, is associated with a 20 percent increase in mortality within one year, and very high medical costs.”

The practice of tai chi is a sustainable form of exercise with a multitude of direct and indirect health benefits. The meditative and physical aspects of Taoist Tai Chi arts involve deep stretching with a full range of motion and continuous turning of the spine. This exercises the whole physiology, including muscular, skeletal, nervous and circulatory systems, as well as tendons, joints, connective tissue and organs. This whole-body approach has a beneficial effect on many conditions from stress and sore backs to deeper health issues such as depression, chronic pain and multiple sclerosis.

Exercise is important for everyday health, but one exercise in particular helps prevent falls and broken bones in seniors, according to recently published research. Dr. Robert Wermers, a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist, says tai chi is a low-impact balance exercise that can reduce falls and prevent life-impairing bone fractures in seniors. He explains, “Any type of non-impact balance exercises two or three times a week is beneficial, but only one has actually been shown to prevent falls, and it’s tai chi.”

Marie Reeder, CMR, was a territory manager for Roche Pharmaceutical until her retirement.

Taoist Tai Chi will conduct an open house at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., September 5, 2023, at Riverside Park United Methodist Church, 918 Park St., in Jacksonville; and at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., September 7, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 5616 Atlantic Blvd. For more information, email [email protected] or visit