As people age, they can become a bigger risk for falls as their balance decreases. Many medical professionals will recommend that people stay as active as possible in hopes of preventing falls and serious injuries.
There isn’t exactly a lot of direction as to which kinds of exercise seniors should participate in, or which ones will be the most beneficial. Some exercise, like running or weight lifting, requires a lot of impact and as people get older they might not want to – or be able to – participate in those kinds of workouts.
There are other activities, like Tai Chi, that are low impact and have been known to show improvements in the overall health of seniors, including balance.
If you’re looking for a way to stay active during your retirement years, and maybe even a new way to be social, taking up Tai Chi can have additional benefits for your physical health – including preventing falls. Here’s what you need to know.
To Start, What Exactly Is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese practice, which includes a series of movements that are performed in a slow and very focused manner. When it is practiced in a more traditional way, participants have been known to flow between 100 different postures or positions.
With Tai Chi for seniors, though, the practice has been narrowed down to 8 basic movements. This core movements focus the most on balance, which is why they were selected for the simplified form of Tai Chi for seniors.
Why Is It So Beneficial?
Tai Chi requires a lot of focus – it’s not just a physical activity. This practice involves a kind of mind meditation along with using, and therefore strengthening, muscles to help maintain and increase balance.
It promotes a complete mind-body connection, which can lead to better overall health as you age. Tai Chi requires complete focus and purposeful movements, so it can also act as mediation to help clear your mind while you’re practicing it.
Additionally, Tia Chi requires those participating to constantly move – although not fast – and this challenges their balance. By challenging balance to move between the positions and postures required in Tai Chi, their balance will effectively increase over time.
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How Does It Help To Prevent Falls?
As mentioned, Tai Chi works on your balance but it’s reasonable to ask how exactly it works on that.
Well, as participants are moving through the various positions and postures in Tai Chi they are working on moving their body outside of their center of gravity and then pulling themselves back from that without falling.
It works on the muscles required to perfect the movements in multiple planes, which all help work on keeping yourself from falling when your center of gravity has changed.
In short, if a senior is at home and they start to fall they are more likely to be able to prevent a fall if they have been practicing Tai Chi. They will have the muscles needed to keep themselves upright, and hopefully prevent any kind of injury.
If you are looking to get started with Tai Chi, here is a quick video to help you out.
Is Tai Chi Enough?
There have been numerous studies done in effective exercise routines for seniors, especially those who have mobility or balance issues.
When Tai Chi is modified to a simplified, senior focused program it can help to reduce falls by almost one third in seniors. This was compared against an exercise regimen that included appropriate aerobics, strength training and balance exercise.
Participating in Tai Chi even a couple times a week can significantly improve the balance of seniors, especially those who would be much more prone to falling to begin with.
Where To Start
If you have never done this before, you might not know where or even how to start. There are community centers that often run seniors programs, including Tai Chi, that you can sign up for. This can help with getting involved with the community and meeting others you can be social with.
If you don’t have any community centers near you, or ones that run activities, that’s ok – you can still start practicing Tai Chi. The great part about this kind of fitness is that you don’t need a lot of equipment or dedicated areas.
Many people who practice Tai Chi are found doing so outside, enjoying the peace of nature. There are also many videos that will guide you through poses that will work for you and your abilities.
You don’t have to worry about not being able to complete the poses as many of them can be scaled until you build up the experience and muscles necessary to complete them.
Some gyms will also offer classes for beginners and/or seniors so that you can be introduced to Tai Chi in a place where you can learn the moves appropriately and ask any questions you may have.
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Benefits of Practicing Tai Chi
Every form of exercise has its own benefits, and they may not be apparent right away but with time and patience you will see how it’s changing your life.
It’s Low Impact
Tai Chi is a very safe form of exercise for beginners or those who are looking for a low impact form of activity. It is slow, safe and gentle on your body while increasing your flexibility and posture.
It Can Help With Stress and Anxiety
A lot of Tai Chi involves stretching and moving, which relaxes the body and therefore releases the stress and anxiety. It also focuses on your breathing, especially controlling your breathing.
Better Sleep and Mood
As mentioned, Tai Chi helps to release the stress and anxiety you may be dealing with. When this happens, you’ll find that your moods increase with less stress, anxiety and you may even have fewer symptoms of depression.
Additionally, doing Tai Chi on a regular basis has been found to lead to better, more restful sleep.
It Can Be Customized
Are there certain things you can’t do? Certain moves that just aren’t an option for you right now? That’s no problem. Tai Chi can be customized and adapted to the abilities you have right now so you can still participate in it.
On top of that, the movements are slow and focused so you don’t have to worry about keeping up with an instructor.
It Can Help Ease Pain
If you’re living with chronic pain, or recovering from a surgery or procedure, Tai Chi can help ease the pain you might be experiencing. Since this form of exercise is low impact, it can help you feel better and live with less pain over time.
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Other Kinds of Exercise
Tai Chi isn’t the only kind of exercise that is low impact, so there are other things you can participate in that will be complimentary to this and help you explore other forms of exercise.
Depending on the time of year, walking outside could be one of the best options to keep you active. It’s low impact and it’s easy to do – you can walk around your area a couple times a week. You can also make it into a social activity by walking with your friends.
Make sure you have shoes that support your feet properly and are comfortable for you to wear.
Many seniors enjoy swimming because it can help actually relieve stress on your joints. The water will support your weight so this can help if you are living with a lot of joint pain. In addition to that, swimming does carry lower risk of injury than many other forms of exercise so it’s a great option for seniors.
Swimming laps in a pool can help you to both stretch and strengthen your muscles.
Riding a bike can be a great way to see the sights around you, but it’s also a great form of exercise for everyone. Even if you can’t get outside to ride a bike – or you don’t want to – there are stationary bikes at gyms or that you can have in your home for regular exercise.
Like with any exercise, riding a bike can help to improve your mood and help to reduce pain in your body. Since it is a form of cardio, it can actually help to reduce heart disease or even prevent a heart attack from happening.
Yoga can be very complimentary to Tai Chi since yoga involves stretching and it’s a slow form of exercise. Many gyms are offering yoga classes for seniors, so you don’t have to worry about getting yourself into the crazy positions many people associate with yoga.
Yoga classes for seniors will have moves tailored to different abilities and you’ll definitely be able to participate.
Staying active as you age is really important. The more active you can stay, the healthier you’ll be for years to come. The form of exercise you might participate in will change over time, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop being active.
Tai Chi is a great way to keep your mind and body healthy while building the muscles you need to help prevent falls, and therefore prevent serious injury. There are many classes you can take, or you can look online for guided videos and practice Tai Chi from the comfort of your home. No matter how you do it, staying active will always benefit you in the long term.