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For Better Balance, Try Tai Chi

Concerned about falling? You're not alone. Up to a third of those older than age 65 sustain a spill, sometimes resulting in broken bones and loss of mobility. Fortunately, studies show, it's never too late to take steps to prevent falling--or to minimize injury, should a tumble occur. An appropriate choice may be the ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi. It's gentle, doesn't require a lot of room or equipment, and you'll feel the benefits almost immediately.

An antidote from the East
Tai chi (pronounced "tie-chee"), long practiced in China to enhance well-being, involves a dynamic series of slow, flowing movements that increase strength and flexibility, align the body, and improve balance. "When the knee or the hip is in the wrong place and the muscles are tight, of course you’re going to be off balance," says Master C. K. Chu, a tai chi expert in New York City. The exercises are also said to stimulate "chi," the vital life force central to
traditional Chinese medicine. "Tai chi charges the battery and makes the whole system grow a lot healthier," he explains.

Because it is similar in intensity to walking, tai chi may be a particularly good choice for the elderly, including those with angina or heart disease, says Timothy Hain, M.D., author of a recent study at Northwestern University Medical School. In that study, eight weekly tai chi training classes, along with 30 minutes of daily home practice, dramatically improved balance (Archives of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, 11/99). Earlier studies at Emory University in Atlanta found that tai chi reduced the risk of falls, lowered blood pressure, improved confidence, and strengthened grip in older people. Always consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Finding an instructor
Although the benefits of tai chi seem clear, finding a qualified instructor may prove more of a challenge. Master Chu recommends going to a reputable teaching center, watching a class, and asking questions. He emphasizes that tai chi should not cause injury if it is done properly and that developing knee problems could be a sign of poor instruction or technique. You may want to choose someone who has worked with older people. Once you find a good teacher, attend one or two classes a week and practice at home regularly.

For more information: log on to http://reseau.chebucto.ns.ca/Philosophy/Taichi/other.html. World Tai Chi Day is April 8. For information about events near you, call 913-648-2256 (www.worldtaichiday.org).


Date Published: 09/29/2002
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