Fall 2021 Newsletter
By Laura Stilwell, MEd
UAMS Arkansas Geriatric Education Collaborative (AGEC)
Tai chi, an ancient Chinese form of exercise, is one of the activities offered by the Arkansas Geriatric Education Collaborative (AGEC). Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention meets the criteria of exercise for older adults by providing improvement in strength, balance, endurance and flexibility (Grabiner, et al., 2014). The program used by AGEC is one developed by Doctor Paul Lam, an Australian family practice physician and Tai Chi master. Lam began his practice of Tai Chi in 1974 to alleviate his pain caused by early onset arthritis. As he recognized the benefits of his Tai Chi practice, Lam founded the Tai Chi for Health Institute in 2010 (Lam, 2017).
The practice of Tai Chi is derived from the ancient Chinese martial arts. There are five styles of Tai Chi. Each style varies in level of difficulty based on depth of stance, flexibility, complexity of form, and the endurance necessary to complete all the steps of a form. Lam chose the Sun (pronounced soon) style for the Arthritis and Fall Prevention method due to the nature of the upright stance maintained while performing the exercises. In Lam’s interpretation of Tai Chi, he deleted high risk movements and focused on the movements specifically related to relieve joint pain from arthritis. Other movements chosen enhance muscle strength and balance to diminish the risk of falls. The movements are slow and gentle, and the degree of exertion is easily modified for students of all abilities. Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention is one exercise modality that, when practiced on a regular basis, provides intervention for risks faced by older adults, due to its focus on strength improvement, balance, and fluidity of movement (Lam, 2017).
Longitudinal studies show Tai Chi to be a viable modality of exercise for the improvement of joint mobility for arthritis and for fall prevention. In Exercise for Older Adults, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends balance exercise for all individuals who fall frequently or for those with mobility problems (Chodzko-Zajko, 2014). Tai Chi styles that include slow continuous movements with head and neck rotation and weight shifting in standing positions are beneficial for leg strength and balance. Movements that are performed in a standing position that include arm movements, with visual focus on those movements, promote balance. Multimodal programs of balance, strength, flexibility, and walking are shown to reduce the risk of falls (Chodzko-Zajko, 2014).
In recent studies, the practice of Tai Chi has shown improvement in overall health. In a study released in 2021, Tai Chi is shown to reduce waist circumference, which is a predictor of overall health and relates to risk factors of heart disease and diabetes (Sui, et al., 2021). Participation in Tai Chi as a regular exercise modality can show significant improvement in overall psychological well-being; studies have linked regular physical activity with a reduced risk for dementia and cognitive decline (Chodko-Zajko, 2014).
In addition to the ACSM, Tai Chi is recommended by the World Health Organization, (WHO, 2021) the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC, 2019) the Arthritis Foundation, (AF, 2021) and the National Council on Aging (NCOA, 2020).
AGEC provides a variety of exercise modalities for the older adults of Arkansas. Variety is important because each individual has unique interests. Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention is an exercise experience that older adults may find interesting and effective, thus creating an opportunity for an exercise lifestyle. Providing this lifestyle opportunity is one of the goals of programming at AGEC.
Chodzko-Zajko, Wojtek J. ACSM’s Exercise for Older Adults. Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2014
Dilonardo, Mary J. “Tai Chi FOR ARTHRITIS: Arthritis Foundation.” Tai Chi for Arthritis | Arthritis Foundation, 2021, https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/physical-activity/yoga/tai-chi-for-arthritis
Grabiner, M.D., Crenshaw, J. R., Hurt, C. P., Rosenblatt, N. J., & Troy, K. L. (2014). Exercise-based fall prevention: can you be a bit more specific? Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 42(4), 161–168.
Lam, Paul. “Tai Chi and Arthritis.” Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention Handbook, Tai Chi Productions, Narwee, NSW, 2017, pp. 7–14.
The National Council on Aging, Aug. 2020, https://www.ncoa.org/article/evidence-based-program-tai-chi-for-arthritis-and-fall-prevention
Siu, P. M., Yu, A. P., Chin, E. C., Yu, D. S., Hui, S. S., Woo, J., Fong, D. Y., Wei, G. X., & Irwin, M. R. (2021). Effects of Tai Chi or Conventional Exercise on Central Obesity in Middle-Aged and Older Adults : A Three-Group Randomized Controlled Trial. Annals of internal medicine, 174(8), 1050–1057. https://doi.org/10.7326/M20-7014
Tai Chi Principles for FALLS Prevention in Older People. 27 Feb. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/compendium/pdf/Voukelatos.pdf
Who.int, Apr. 2021, https://who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/falls