CDC endorses T’ai Chi to reduce risk of falls
By Janene Lang
At the top of the Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s list of “Ways to Prevent Falls” is regular exercise with the following endorsement: “T’ai Chi programs are especially good.”
The major causes of falls among older adults are listed in the CDC’s publication, Preventing Falls: How to Develop Community-based Fall Prevention Programs for Older Adults. Topping the list of biological risk factors are mobility issues due to muscle weakness and balance problems. Inactivity tops the list of lifestyle risk factors.
But recent studies have shown that T’ai Chi can address both the biological and lifestyle risks. Balance often declines with age, but T’ai Chi exercises our proprioception, the sense of position body parts, strength, and amount of effort needed in movement. Better proprioception increases the steadiness of the gate and makes it easier to recover from a stumble.
Icy walks for the next 6 months create a scenario that can be serious and life-threatening. Falls are a major threat to the health and independence of older adults. According to the CDC each year in the United States, nearly one-third of older adults experience a fall, with one in ten resulting in a serious injury requiring hospitalization, making falls the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injury in this group.
Many who fall, even if not injured, develop a fear of falling, causing them to limit their activities, which leads to reduced mobility and loss of physical fitness, which in turn increases their risk of falling, injury, or death. In 2011, about 22,900 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries and the numbers have been rising in recent years.
Studies have shown that T’ai Chi also reduces the risk of falls by improving muscle strength and flexibility. Regarding the fear of falling and its likelihood to increase the risk of a fall, some studies have found that T’ai Chi training reduces not only the incidence of falls, but actually reduces the fear of falling.
In addition to reducing falls, studies have also look at T’ai Chi in relation to other quality of life and disease management issues. Those identified as showing positive results with as little as 12 weeks of T’ai Chi include stress, anxiety, sleep, mobility, strength, balance, flexibility, bone density, and immune response. The specific medical conditions indentified as showing improvements with the practice of T’ai Chi include arthritis, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, heart disease, and breast cancer.
Tai Chi is a safe, gentle and fun way for adults of all ages and ability levels to improve their health and enjoyment of life. This week, you can get started learning and practicing T’ai Chi by taking part in T’ai Chi classes at the Fond du Lac Center for Spirituality & Healing. A new 8-week Beginning T’ai Chi session starts on December 3, 2014 at 6:30 pm. Click here for more information on T’ai Chi and how to register for T’ai Chi classes at the Center.
For more in depth information on the research references in this article, see the CDC and NCBI reports linked in the Sources section below.