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.

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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

If mental states influence physical conditions, where does tai chi play a role?

If mental states affect physical conditions, and researchers don’t know how it happens, then how can the cause/effect relationship be proven? As Stephen Locke, MD, states in The Healer Within (1986), “‘Knowing’ that one’s state of mind influences one’s body does not prove that it does.” In his book he talks about the trend in research to discover how the mental states affect the central nervous and immune systems, thus our health.

The book covers amazing things, but I haven’t got to the part where he talks about tai chi and qigong. I’m not finished reading it, but I doubt it’s there. For me, practices, such as tai chi, qigong, and yoga, are addressing at least some questions that researchers are asking, or perhaps, not asking. Massage is another possible methodology of tapping into the central nervous or immune system’s influence over a person’s physical health. Other modalities, or practices, such as reiki, fall into the category of mind-body treatment.

By current scientific measures, these practices don’t prove the influence of mental states over physical conditions. But researchers continue to explore the causes and effects of the influence of mental states on physical health. In the meantime, tai chi practitioners are engaged in our own explorations. We know something is happening when we do our practice, even though Locke says “Common sense is not science.” Go figure.

Knowing is not proof, they say, yet millions of people who practice tai chi know that they experience both mental and physical changes from regular practice over time. They must, because who would keep making the effort and expending the energy to do something without seeing (feeling) beneficial results at some point? People are rewarded for doing tai chi, but that’s not proof of cause and effect, because science hasn’t figured out a way to prove it. Go figure.

The point I want to make is that practices such as tai chi and qigong actively seek the connection without having to explain it. They presume it, or maybe they don’t, but they trust the process and intend beneficial results. They activate the mind-body connection by virtue of engaging one’s whole being in doing their particular practice. The rest takes care of itself. They make it work somehow without having to prove it.

What I am attracted to in the case of tai chi, qigong and yoga is that they are practices individuals do on their own. We may have a teacher to lead us through the practice, but the work is done ourselves for ourselves. Massage, reiki, and other practices are done to, or on, us by a professional. They may be effective at times and at other times less so. Same with the practices you do yourself.

But to do the practice yourself on your own holds a special allure for me. But like Locke says, even though I “know” it works, I can’t prove the cause/effect relationship. However, I can talk about results that happen when I do enough tai chi and qigong, and I can talk about results when I don’t do enough of either. And that is enough for me. The immediate relaxation responses are enough. The longer-term sense of well-being that develops from practice and that I carry with me between practices is real enough.

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.”

Article Forward: Tai Chi’s “Molecular Signature”

Question: What “reverses the effect that stress or anxiety … have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed?” You guessed it! What potentially could be a landmark finding probably won’t surprise some tai chi practitioners (yoga and meditation, too). It’s good to know that researchers is paying attention.

Dear tai chi practitioners,
Shh…Don’t tell them it’s not just about “mind-body.” Let’s keep our little secret. Tell ’em they have to do tai chi to really find out.

http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20170616/why-yoga-tai-chi-and-meditation-are-good-for-you

Article: Tai Chi increases brain size, benefits cognition of Chinese elderly

https://plus.google.com/+MartialArtsWithColman/posts/UchJvMz6kep

Scientists from the University of South Florida and Fudan University in Shanghai found increases in brain volume and improvements on tests of memory and thinking in Chinese seniors who practiced Tai Chi three times a week, reports an article published today in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Read more at: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-06-tai-chi-brain-size-benefits.html#jCp

https://plus.google.com/+MartialArtsWithColman/posts/UchJvMz6kep

https://plus.google.com/+MartialArtsWithColman/posts/UchJvMz6kep

Article: Tai Chi helps with depression

“Tai chi significantly reduces depression symptoms in Chinese-Americans”

Published May 25, 2017

The tai chi intervention involved twice weekly sessions for 12 weeks, in which participants were taught and practiced basic traditional tai chi movements. They were asked to practice at home three times a week and to document their practice.

I’ve always believed that journaling one’s tai chi practice helps with the learning and feeding back into the practice. That’s why I blog. Comments are always welcome. Maybe it will be good for you.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170525103816.htm

A Comp. Review identified 163 different physiological and psychological health outcomes of taiji and qigong

This review [published in 2010] has identified numerous outcomes with varying levels of evidence for the efficacy for Qigong and Tai Chi, including bone health, cardiopulmonary fitness and related biomarkers, physical function, falls prevention and balance, general quality of life and patient reported outcomes, immunity, and psychological factors such as anxiety, depression and self-efficacy.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3085832/