For helping stroke survivors avoid falls, tai chi practice may be even more effective than other exercise programs, such as SilverSneakers®, and the primary reason may be the mindfulness component.
Ruth E. Taylor-Piliae, PhD, RN, FAHA, principal investigator and assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Nursing in Tucson, reported the findings at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2013, held in Honolulu. Stroke survivors experience seven times as many falls each year as healthy adults. Taylor-Piliae said to IDEA Fitness Journal, “When practicing tai chi, the slow and flowing movements help cultivate the mind-body connection. This creates a relaxed mind and body while lowering the center of balance. Relaxation opens up a person’s awareness (mindfulness), allowing for micro adjustments in posture and balance.” These effects improve static and dynamic balance, which are important for fall prevention.
University of Arizona researchers recruited 89 male and female stroke survivors (average age = 70 years); typically the stroke had occurred at least 3 years before the study took place. Subjects belonged to one of three groups: tai chi, SilverSneakers or “usual care.” Tai chi and SilverSneakers members participated in a 1-hour class, three times per week, for 12 weeks. Investigators recorded all falls and injuries during the intervention period.
Tai chi participants, who practiced Yang-style, experienced the fewest falls—only five. The highest number of falls—15—occurred in the usual-care group. SilverSneakers participants experienced 14 falls.
Taylor-Piliae believes that the additional element of mindfulness may explain why tai chi is more effective than other conventional programs for fall prevention. “We reported in a previous study among healthy older adults [Taylor-Piliae, R.E., et al. 2010. Effects of tai chi and Western exercise on physical and cognitive functioning in healthy community-dwelling older adults. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 18, 261–79]: ‘When practicing tai chi, participants are taught to be mindful of their movements. During the performance of tai chi, paying careful attention to what the body is doing and how it feels are both important.’ For example, students are asked, ‘As you step to the right (i.e., correct foot placement), are your shoulders relaxed (i.e., moving without tension in other parts of the body)?’” This extra attention on every aspect of movement quality may be an important distinction with a critical difference.
To learn more about the study, go to http://newsroom.heart .org/news/tai-chi-exercise-may-reduce-falls-in-adult-stroke-survivors. Note: We reported on the 2010 study in the April 2011 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.