Tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice that focuses on building strength, balance and flexibility through slow, fluid movements combined with mental imagery and deep breathing. Because of its a gentle form of activity, it has a lot of benefits for frail elderly adults. Not only does it improve balance, it also cuts down the risk of falling.
To assess the benefits of tai chi for fall prevention, Australian researchers studied 702 relatively healthy people in the community with an average age of 69 years. These men and women were randomly assigned to either take tai chi classes once a week for 16 weeks or to go on a waiting list for classes. The researchers tracked fall rates in both groups during the 16-week course, and for another eight weeks after it ended. Balance was measured at the start of the study and after 16 weeks of follow-up, using six balance tests.
The results showed that those who practiced tai chi had lower risks of falling. It was also found that those who took tai chi class once a week for four months were one-third less likely to suffer a fall. There was no difference in the percentage of participants who had one or more falls. There were statistically significant differences in changes in balance favouring the tai chi group on five of six balance tests. Compared to the other group, those in tai chi group were much less likely to fall multiple times; overall, their fall rate was 33 percent lower than those in the waiting-list.
Thus, practicing tai chi is an effective and sustainable way for older adults to prevent falls.