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Tai Chi and the Elderly

By Carol Davis

From the Spring 2003 Newsletter

There has been substantial research in the U.S. since the 1980's into fall prevention and balance control in the elderly. It is estimated that one-third to one-half of the population aged 65 years and older fall each year, and these falls can result in serious injury and even death. By 2030, the number of older Americans is expected to double from 35 million to 70 million.

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In June 2002, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report finding that frail health, often associated with aging, is in large part due to physical inactivity. The benefits of increased physical activity can prevent or delay chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as reducing the risk of colon cancer and improving function for people with arthritis and lung disease.

Tai Chi has been recommended as one approach to increase physical activity.

Although Tai Chi is a martial art, it is practiced by hundreds of thousands of people in China to benefit health and has been finding its way into mainstream America. Tai Chi is characterized by a series of postures that are linked together and performed slowly with much attention paid to detail. This slow movement allows for the constant observance of weight shift and body alignment through which one develops an internal sense of body position and motion.

In 1997, research carried out by Steven Wolf indicated that the study of Tai Chi could reduce falls in the elderly by 47.5%. Fear of falling, which affects appropriate balance strategies, was also reported to have decreased in the Tai Chi group.

Interest in continued practice after the 15 week study continued for many in the Tai Chi group with 40% continuing to meet weekly for practice after 4 months and 30% of this group meeting weekly 2 years after completion of this study.

Over recent years, many Senior Citizens Centers in the U.S. have started to offer Tai Chi to their members. Carol Martoccia, Sifu in Tai Chi/Chi Kung under Master Phil Sant, has been working with the Putnam County Department of the Aging since 1998. She presently teaches seniors at Cold Spring, Mahopac, Carmel and Putnam Valley as well as conducting a class at the American Center for Chinese Studies in Brewster. Another Sifu under Master Sant, Gary Renza, will be conducting Tai Chi classes twice a week beginning March 10th and 19th in the Wellness Center operated by Hudson Valley Hospital Center.

The old adage, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" certainly applies to increasing physical activity in the elderly. Both individual and community efforts can make remarkable improvements in health and quality of life for our seniors.

Wellness Center, Sifu Gary Renza
Mondays 8:30 am, Wednesdays-7:00 pm
Sifu Carol Martoccia, ACCS, Brewster

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