Tai Chi increases mobility and reduces falls in older people

A study has shown that taking part in a Tai Chi exercise programme reduced the number of falls and increased mobility in a group of senior citizens in assisted living in the US.

The research, conducted by Professor Gary Brosvic of Rider University, New Jersey, USA, is presented  at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference held at the Grand Connaught Rooms, London (18-20 April).

Twenty older people (average age 72) in assisted living in the US took part in up to 30 sessions of Tai Chi exercise. They were compared with 20 similar people who did not take part. Those doing the exercise demonstrated significant declines in the likelihood of falling and in the amount of time needed to stand and walk, as well as increases in reach, balance, and the ability to do day-to day activities. Benefits were apparent after as few as 10 sessions.  A control group showed no changes until they too joined in the exercise programme.

Those who independently continued with the exercise were judged by medical staff to require the lowest level of physical support while walking, to experience the fewest falls, and to have the greatest balance and reach during the completion of day-to-day living activities.

Falls in older people are a huge problem in the UK where Age UK report that up to one in three people over the age of 65 fall each year. The findings of this study may have implications for reducing injuries and hospital admissions resulting from falls.

Professor Brosvic says: "Tai Chi exercise can increase muscle strength, flexibility and sensory organisation in postural control and balance."