Improve Balance and Strength Through Tai Chi

Growing older isn’t always easy but there are ways to improve balance and strength with yoga or Tai Chi.

Our bodies go through many changes and as one gets older, this often means reduced flexibility, range of motion, agility and overall strength. And these are some of the major factors that can contribute to the risk of falling, a serious concern for seniors and their loved ones. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 individuals aged 65 and above fall every year. It can lead to life-threatening injuries and is a very costly problem.

While some changes are inevitable with age, there are steps you can take to ensure optimal health and longevity. One of the exercises for preventing heart disease mentioned on 70 Strong is also an excellent way to combat factors that lead to falling, and it is the ancient Chinese martial art of Tai Chi.

What is Tai Chi and why is it described as meditation in motion?
Tai Chi is a martial art that dates back to the 12th century. Unlike some people’s perceptions of kung fu, Tai Chi is non-competitive and can be practiced as an individual sport. It is typically described as “meditation in motion” because the movements in Tai Chi are slow and deliberate, making it very suitable for all ages. It involves flowing through a set of upright postures at a gentle and controlled pace. You might need to bend your legs a little or a lot as if in a lunge, twist your torso and extend your hands in different directions.

What are the benefits of Tai Chi?
Because Tai Chi requires a lot of footwork and playing with weight distribution, it is essentially a balancing practice. Researcher Kerri Winters-Stone says that Tai Chi helps develop better reflexes because of the different planes of motion involved. If an older person is to fall forward, they have better chances of counteracting the movement if they practice Tai Chi. In fact, a study that Winters-Stone co-authored found that the chances of falling were reduced by 58% if the individual was in a Tai Chi program.

Many libraries and adult activity centers throughout San Mateo County offer free Tai Chi classes. Visit the 70 Strong directory for more information.

The different styles and techniques in Tai Chi make it a great exercise for all demographics. Aside from people 60+ and seniors, athletes also benefit from the practice because it helps ensure healthy bones and prevent joint issues down the line. Many athletes experience physical problems and have a higher likelihood of getting injured han the average person because of the incredible amount of wear and tear they put their bodies through.

Some elite athletes have incorporated Tai Chi into their training. Professional tennis player Novak Djokovic practices Tai Chi for its mind-body benefits. Being ranked No. 1 in the world on several occasions, with 14 Grand Slams to his name, it’s evident that the star athlete pays attention to all the details of his training. Yet, after suffering an injury last year, he, like many seniors, was forced to adapt his training. In June 2018, the Serbian fell short at the French Open, suffering a shocking quarter-final loss to world No. 72 Marco Cecchinato. Despite this, Djokovic went on to win both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. At 31 years of age he was able to quickly bounce back, showing how the body can recover when it is kept in good shape.

With the overall benefits provided by Tai Chi, athletes like Djokovic are not only able to extend their careers, but also maintain their bodies better into old age.

Other prominent athletes have dabbled in the art of Tai Chi; former coach for the LA Lakers Phil Jackson brought in a sports psychologist who created a mix of Tai Chi and yoga for the team to help boost performance.

Whether you’re an athlete or not, flexibility, range of motion, agility and overall strength are key factors to a better quality of life, which doesn’t have to suffer with age. Tai Chi is one of those exercises that provides a host of benefits, especially for older adults.

This article was written for 70 Strong by freelance writer Reese Jones.