Enhance Your Balance with T'ai Chi

How to decrease falling and increase confidence and fitness with t'ai chi

T'ai chi is an exercise system developed in China that uses a series of slow, concentrated body movements and breathing methods to help center the mind and body and rejuvenate the spirit. It is a gentle form of balance training that is appropriate for all ages, body types and skill levels and has been clinically proved to enhance balance and decrease falls.

Relax and improve your balance with t'ai chi

Your first t'ai chi class should leave you feeling relaxed, with an improved awareness of your energy. If you stick with t'ai chi balancing exercises, you'll further increase your energy awareness as you become more conscious of where you hold tension in your body and how to effectively release this tension. Such mind-body attentiveness can lead to increased confidence and calmness and, when practiced regularly, enhances both physical and emotional balance.

Clinical support for t'ai chi as effective balance training

As t'ai chi has gained increased recognition in the West, researchers have sought to verify anecdotal evidence supporting the positive benefits of this exercise with scientific proof.

The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society published two studies in 1996 that found t'ai chi to be an effective balance-training program that helps reduce falls for people age 70 and older.

A study conducted at Emory University found that elderly individuals who participated in the university's 15-week t'ai chi training program decreased their rate of falling by 47.5 percent.

Another study led at the University of Connecticut Health Center found that a six-month t'ai chi exercise program likewise enhanced both balance and confidence.

The benefits of t'ai chi continue to be researched. A 2006 study published in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found that people who had been practicing t'ai chi balancing exercise for more than one year demonstrated quicker reflexes when using their hamstrings and calf muscles and a better understanding of knee joint ankle position alignment than those who had not practiced t'ai chi.

A more recent study supports evidence that t'ai chi improves balance in stroke survivors. A University of Illinois at Chicago research study separated 136 stroke survivors into a control group and a group that underwent a 12-week t'ai chi exercise regimen. The tai chi group performed significantly better than the control group when asked to sustain balance while shifting weight, standing on moving surfaces and leaning in different directions.

How to get started

If you are looking to enhance your mind-body balance, and your balance in general, t'ai chi is a gentle, inexpensive and effective exercise program. Local YMCAs, gyms, community centers and martial arts schools offer a variety of t'ai chi classes for varying skill levels. If you are more comfortable exercising alone, there are many excellent DVDs that will guide you through balancing exercises both safely and effectively.

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