Community tai chi classes are “an effective and sustainable intervention” to prevent falls among elderly people, a recent study suggests.
Researchers in Sydney, Australia, randomly assigned 702 subjects to either a weekly tai chi program or to a waiting list. They then assessed the number of falls during 16 weeks when the classes met and again eight weeks after they ended.
Participants were between ages 60 and 96 years, with a median age of 69 years. All were living at home and in good health; 84% were women.
Overall, the tai chi group experienced approximately 33% fewer falls. There was no significant difference in the percentage of participants who either never fell or who fell once. But the risk for multiple falls was almost 50% lower within the tai chi group. None of the tai chi participants fell more than twice; 13 people in the control group fell as many as five times. The tai chi group also outscored the control group in five of six balance tests (J Am Geriatr Soc. 2007;55:1185-1191).
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese exercise system of slow, graceful movements combined with meditation and deep breathing. Its simplicity might explain how the protective effect extended beyond the duration of the program.
“It may be that tai chi is easier to incorporate into daily life than other forms of exercise,” the researchers speculated, “so people continue to practice principles of tai chi after ceasing to attend formal classes. For example, some participants indicated that they practiced the tai chi walk (being conscious of foot placement and balance) while going about their daily activities.”