At this point, pretty much everyone knows that some form of physical activity is good for us. In fact, research shows that being physically active is pretty much the magic pill for whatever ails you. And especially as we age, it becomes very important in maintaining mobility and independence and thus, quality of life.
A form of physical activity that is a great option for many, particularly those aged over 65 years, is called Tai Chi. Though it is probably safe to say that it has been around for centuries (it stems from ancient Chinese medicine, philosophy and martial arts), it is now seeing a huge rise in popularity and visibility.
The recent popularity of Tai Chi is due to the fact that it is a low-impact form of exercise, which makes it an activity that is suited perfectly for old and young alike. Additionally, it has been researched extensively and shown to have benefits that are “vast and hard to oversell,” notably including reducing fall risk. One article challenged that it is as good for you as running, walking or CrossFit (“Why Tai Chi Is As Good For You As CrossFit,” Time Health, April 28, 2017.)
One of the most prominent benefits of Tai Chi is the reduction of fall risk through improvement in strength, balance and stability. Each year about one-third of adults aged 65 years and older experience a fall, with a good number of these falls resulting in injury and contributing to loss of mobility.
Tai Chi has been shown to help prevent these falls, reducing fall risk by as much as 55 percent. Because of this, Tai Chi programs have been developed to specifically reduce falls among older adults. One of these fall-reducing programs is called Tai Chi: Moving for Better Balance, which is now available in Evanston through Uinta County Public Health.
In addition to promoting balance and mobility, Tai Chi has been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve muscular strength, improve sleep quality, reduce depression, enhance mental well-being, and improve the overall quality of life. Harvard Health Publications states that “this gentle form of exercise can prevent or erase many ills of aging and could be the perfect activity for the rest of your life.”
Because of its meditative quality, participating in Tai Chi triggers the relaxation response, which is an actual physiological change that helps to undo the negative effects of stress on the body.
“And it is really fun,” adds Tai Chi: Moving for Better Balance instructor Angie Fessler.
Tai Chi is a set of movements, known as forms, which are performed in a slow, controlled manner. The meditative quality comes through focusing on the body as it moves, and setting the tempo through controlled breathing.
Although it is low-impact, slow and smooth, Tai Chi is also continuous movement, with constant shifting of weight, which improves both stability and mobility and brings attention to the body’s base of support and the changing center of gravity.
Uinta County Public Health is offering a free Tai Chi: Movement for Better Balance Class. If you are interested in signing up for the next 12-week session, please call Uinta County Public Health at 789-9203 to be placed on the list. Classes will also be offered soon through the Uinta County Senior Center and at Rocky Mountain Care.