Practicing tai chi reduces risk of falling among older adults, according to researchers from Taiwan.
They compared the effects of tai chi to leg strengthening exercises – referred to as “lower extremity training” – in reducing falls.
“I suggest that older adults learn tai chi exercises in a class, and practice at home at least once a day”
Tai chi is ancient exercise practice developed in China, which combines certain postures and gentle movements with mental focus, breathing, and relaxation.
The researchers assigned 368 people aged 60 and older who had received treatment for a fall into one of two groups.
The first group received hour-long individual tai chi classes conducted by tai chi instructors every week for 24 weeks.
The second received individual, hour-long LET sessions for 24 weeks conducted by physical therapists. Sessions included stretching, muscle strengthening, and balance training.
The researchers asked participants in both groups to complete at least 80% of their sessions, and also to practice either tai chi or LET at home every day during the six- month programme and the 12-month follow-up.
All participants kept diaries and recorded any falls they experienced during the course of the study, sharing the information with researchers each month.
After six months of training, those in the tai chi group were significantly less likely to experience an injury-causing fall than were people in the LET group, said the researchers in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Even a year after taking the training, the study suggested people who undertook tai chi were about 50% less likely to experience an injury-causing fall, compared to people in the LET group.
The study authors said: “Home-based tai chi may reduce the incidence of falls and injurious falls more than conventional LET in older fallers, and the effects may last for at least one year.”
Co-author Mau-Roung Lin, professor and director of the Institute of Injury Prevention and Control at Taipei Medical University, added: “I suggest that older adults learn tai chi exercises in a class, and practice at home at least once a day.”