How tai chi can improve balance in aging persons

Our ability to walk and stand and move in all the ways that we do relies heavily on our sense of balance. For some time now research has been finding that tai chi can improve postural stability, especially as we age. Harvard University is particularly focused on such research, much of which is discussed in The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi (Wayne P, 2013).

For something that we take for granted for so much of our lives, the statistics can be a wake-up call.

  • Muscle strength decreases 20 to 40% between the ages of 20 and 70.
  • Ankle flexibility, which is critical for postural control, declines by 50% in women and 35% in men between the ages of 55 and 85.
  • Spinal flexibility is often the first thing to go, especially spinal extension (the ability to stand up straight). We have 50% less spinal extension after age 70 then we had in our 20s.

We don’t have to be “old” to see this progression. It actually starts in relatively early years of life.

As research findings show, it’s a no-brainer that tai chi improves balance. Tai chi practice does so by improving the conditions of aging reported above: improvements in muscle strength, particularly through changes in muscle use and control, joint flexibility in terms of range of motion and speed, spinal flexibility and extension, as well as alignment. Greater overall postural control is possible.

Since the day we stand and begin to walk, we rely on balance as we journey through life. I could tell in my own practice as I have aged that I started out in a particular state of balance and through practice progressed to where I am now. I am my own personal research project. I have seen the progression and can mark its passage in changes in my body and in the way I feel. I think every tai chi practitioner can say something similar if they practice long enough.

Lan Shou Quan powerstretching

Master Ye Xiao Long powerstretching in late 1990s in San Francisco at George Xu Summer Camp Training

Research also suggests that taking a 12-week course of two 90-minute tai chi classes per week can produce noticeable changes in your balance. I would say a number of other changes would be observable, as well. A sense of overall well-being, for example, might result; or a more relaxed feeling when in motion.

I would add that if you practice regularly for two years you would see rather amazing growth in your ability not only at doing tai chi form, for example, but at having cultivated a movement strategy for overcoming conditions, such as chronic pain. I have myself as a case study, but I know many who have stories to tell about overcoming ailments simply by sticking with their tai chi practice.

These positive strides from learning tai chi relate to balance resulting from addressing the functions of four systems in the body, as described by Dr. Wayne: musculoskeletal, visual, sensory, and cognitive. He dissects these into their components and by doing so makes it clearly evident how tai chi improves balance.

Tai chi is a practice of utilizing all of these systems with attention to how they are working in our minds and bodies. We become more adept at how we walk, stand, see, feel, breathe, and even hear merely by focusing on them in movement. Overtime we cultivate expertise through practice similarly to what we do as we grow up, but with a renewed emphasis.

Tai chi movements truly are the movements of life itself. We can transfer the specialized movements of tai chi to daily activities. Just the act of memorizing something new has significant benefits for brain function. And just the simple act of taking a walk can be a practice of tai chi, in addition to a healthy exercise. It’s nothing short of amazing for so many practitioners. I can say this because I’ve seen it and I’ve heard them say so.

We may not be able to completely eradicate the symptoms of aging, but maybe we could slow the decrease in muscle strength, or slow the lack of flexibility in the ankles and other joints. For me, it’s not a maybe, it’s a certainty. The catch is that you have to start and keep it up. The longer you wait the more catching up you have to do—but having less time in which to do it.

The good thing is it’s really never too late to start, especially if you have a knowledgeable and supportive teacher and a friendly group of fellow practitioners with which to practice.

We all have our own unique challenges to tackle in the quest to age more gracefully and with good health. This is something to keep in mind when beginning to learn tai chi movement. Hopefully, you will find a teacher who can help you through your particular situation.

The key is to see and feel progress which comes only after effort and time. Each us takes the time we need and makes the effort that we can and that sets your pace. I’m always confident that just about everyone can make progress and see the difference tai chi can make in their balance and other functions.

 

Paul Tim Richard shares perspectives on internal martial arts and the art of movement based on two decades of study. He has co-produced MastersFromChina.com instructional videos since 2002 and teaches fundamental principles of taijiquan and qigong in Colorado, USA.

Advertisements

Beginning tai chi when younger may help avoid problems of aging

Doing taijiquan and its complement, qigong, can add great benefits to the lifestyles of younger practitioners, as well as reducing the effects of growing older. Why younger people don’t get into tai chi is asked often and many reasons have been discussed. One is that “tai chi is for old people,” as discussed in this video clip.

For me, there are many more reasons for younger people to do tai chi than not to do it. For one, I’m convinced that as preventative practices, tai chi and qigong both can help reduce healthcare costs related to aging (which comes sooner these days than we think!). We just don’t expect problems while we’re young and our bodies are still new and healthy. Instead of waiting until we’re sick or breaking down we could do something about it.

But often, you could have greater effectiveness by accepting that you’re going to have those problems sooner or later.

Tai chi and qigong are also complementary activities to many exercises you choose to do for staying shape, which often is a lifestyle choice. We look good when we feel good. These can be enhanced by practicing even just a few principles of tai chi. You don’t even have to do it as a martial art, either.

As a tai chi and qigong teacher, I find more and people in their twenties, even teens, interested in trying tai chi. As a multi-level exercise for mind, energy, and body practice, no other exercise does all that tai chi can. It helps to heal injuries, maintain healthy systems functions, such as nervous and lymph systems and blood circulation. It helps to detoxify and cleanse.

It trains memorization skills, too; like a crossword puzzle for the whole body, not just the brain. Whether you’re in school, on a job, or whatever, that’s a good thing.

Even if you’re in the grips of aging, you might find that a steady, long-term tai chi practice will have positive effects on the flexibility of your brain function.

Neuroscientists talk about “neuroplasticity” to refer to the brain’s ability to disrupt our tendency towards inertia and be more easily changeable. As Catherine Kerr, a Harvard Medical School instructor, says, “For anyone who practices tai chi regularly brain plasticity arising from repeated training may be relevant, since we know that brain connections are ‘sculpted’ by daily experience and practice.” Kerr is investigating brain dynamics related to tai chi and mindfulness meditation at Harvard Medical School.

In addition to tapping into the brain’s capacity, it’s a bio-mechanical stretching method that can maintain and improve elasticity of bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles so we may live longer and better.

All of these reasons to start tai chi sooner than later apply to every stage of life, but if you start sooner, you might just be happy you did. Starting tai chi is only a matter of joining a class and making a habit of practicing regularly over time. This is a relatively simple key to success.

If you’re in your twenties and already practicing, feel free to comment about your experience. Maybe we can spread a little enthusiasm for beginning younger in life to others who may be pondering the possibility of giving it a try.

 

 

 

Tai chi and getting some energy back

It is said that we are born with a finite amount of energy and that is all we have to make it through life. As life progresses that supply of energy is depleted through living: events, act, thoughts, points of view. It takes energy to live. Less of our original life force becomes available to us as we age. It becomes stuck, tucked away, or wasted upon others. We can get much of it back, however. If you knew this were possible, would you consider doing what it would take to get it back?

Article Forward: How practicing tai chi can help the heart

This article’s news is good reading, but I’m a little disheartened as tai chi teacher. But that’s okay. I still am forwarding it because it’s yet another documentation of people utilizing tai chi with measurable success to address challenges they have with their health.

Composed by Alice Park for Time Health, it describes a tai chi program for heart-attack victims that demonstrated positive behavioral changes after practicing twice or three times a week for 12 and 24 weeks.

Many of the practitioners were obese and had not exercised much in their lives. They were actually afraid to exercise after having cardiac arrest. So they tried tai chi and got good outcomes.

I live in a health-oriented town. Outdoor recreation activities rule. The median age is 31.7 years (city-data.com). Not the best market for a tai chi teacher if you compare all the studies finding tai chi helping people with age-related issues or life-threatening illnesses. None are about young people.

Young people don’t do tai chi as a preventative practice, not even as a health and well-being maintenance practice, not even as a practice for attention deficit disorder. The up-trend in articles suggest populations get sick before starting tai chi. But articles like this one should create more buzz around tai chi. The next thing I would like to see are studies demonstrating the preventative and daily lifestyle management qualities of tai chi and qigong.

Anyway, enjoy reading the article.

http://time.com/4977110/tai-chi-heart-attack/

ARTICLE: Research shows vagus nerve stimulation can help reduce inflammation

Of course, they are talking about implanting a device in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, but why don’t they look into tai chi and qigong doing similar stimulation and results, especially since this article talks about deep breathing, meditation, and even yoga. Oh yeah, that’s right, that’s what we’re doing when we do tai chi! Better take notes.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201607/vagus-nerve-stimulation-dramatically-reduces-inflammation

Tai Chi can help address pain and “clenching.” But how? Here’s one thought for practice.

I sometimes see pain as a sign of the body or brain talking to you, trying to get your attention, telling you to listen. If you have a painful joint or muscle, it might hurt because it’s doing more than its share of the body’s workload. It’s doing the work of other joints or muscles. One or more of these other parts might be holding back, either reacting to tension or stress, or creating tension and stress.

I trace some of this back to the influence of emotion or knowledge. Often it’s low-level, under the radar sort of fear. Sometimes its a lack of clarity on how to respond to some force that you don’t quite understand enough about in order to act on.

I’ve heard of one reaction called “clenching,” a subconscious attempt to control, which has the opposite effect: no control, or perhaps more accurately, causing undue control of other parts of the body by hindering their movement, and reducing their contribution to the movement of the whole.

In other words, trying to hold back the inevitable: movement. If and when you discover yourself doing this kind of thing, tell yourself to listen in a different way than you’re accustomed to:

“Change View. Shift. Release.”

Flow with the compelling force of the mind and body and spirit that is always present whatever we may, or may not, be doing consciously or unconsciously. Move and adapt with the ever-fluctuating force of life.

Dementia research findings and my pitch for tai chi

Researchers list nine activities that can help prevent as much as 33% of the world’s current estimate of 47 million cases of dementia (expected to triple by 2050), including Alzheimer’s.

Tai chi is a physical activity and mentally stimulating exercise, two factors that recent research suggests can prevent dementia in millions.

In a recently published article (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/one-third-of-dementia-cases-could-be-prevented-alzheimers-report/), researchers list nine activities that can help prevent as much as 33% of the world’s current estimate of 47 million cases of dementia (expected to triple by 2050), including Alzheimer’s.

For healthy mental activities, researchers recommend people  stay in school at least until past the age of 15. The article doesn’t specify kinds of physical exercise, but most articles about that subject usually talk about aerobics, interval training, resistance training, even weight lifting.

More and more, people are talking about the benefits of tai chi and qigong, especially for older people who have put off exercise practices in their younger years. It’s lower impact and offers a wide range of desirable results with proper practice. Plus, it’s one of the more preventative practices I’ve ever seen in my life.

I’m seeing more young people looking into tai chi. I think one reason why is that they are born into more sedentary lifestyles, more urban, more media eccentric, more passive. Yet, they know they need something that gives their mind and body connection more stimulating health and longevity activities.

This is the very same reason Boddhidharma (Damo) introduced exercises to Buddhists in China 2600 years ago. The body is your vessel through life. Treat it well and give it what it needs. We’re all learning what that means and we’re looking for ways to treat our bodies and minds better.

I noticed while reading the dementia article that physical exercise, which it recommends, of course, is known to help reduce the effects of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, three factors that cause dementia.

Rather than reciting the old cliché of killing two birds with one stone, I would prefer to say “giving two birds life with a single act.” I feel like tai chi and qigong offer strong possibilities for helping a lot of people who would otherwise suffer from what the article refers to as the world’s “most feared illness in old age.”

Tai chi: a little purpose in life

Seniors who believe they have a purpose in life may sleep better, researchers say.

Give yourself a little purpose by adding tai chi to your daily routine. Findings from this study doesn’t talk about tai chi, but I believe it would be just as valid as any other “purpose.”

https://consumer.healthday.com/senior-citizen-information-31/senior-citizen-news-778/living-with-purpose-may-help-seniors-sleep-soundly-724363.html