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Tai Chi Is Good for Older Adults

Studies show that it helps prevent falls and boosts cognitive function.

Diverse group doing tai chi outdoors.

Why tai chi?

These Chinese movement patterns have been around for centuries. In recent years, study after study has proven their benefits—particularly for older exercisers—yet most fitness professionals seem to know little about the practice.

That’s too bad, because just about any fitness client can learn tai chi, and any fitness professional can teach it. As with other types of exercise, you simply need to learn the movements and experience their benefits.

Indeed, tai chi is a great fit for aging exercisers because it improves balance and enhances cognitive function, and both these outcomes decrease the risk of falls and boost overall well-being. If you master and ultimately teach the movements, you can develop a competitive edge in appealing to this client demographic. Read on to learn what you need to know.

Tai Chi: A Proven Choice for Older Clients

Scientists have extensively studied the benefits of tai chi. Between 2010 and 2017 alone, more than 50 systematic research reviews in scientific journals documented its value for elderly people at risk of falls. Today, researchers continue to explore this topic. Additionally, studies have found benefits for cancer survivors (Miller & Taylor-Piliae 2014), Parkinson’s patients (Hackney & Wolf 2014), and others living with a broad spectrum of diseases and health conditions.

Here are a couple of the documented benefits for senior clients:

Balance and fall risk. The evidence suggests tai chi is an efficient, cost-effective way to improve static and dynamic balance, reduce fear of falling and potentially decrease the prevalence of falls in elderly people (Jimenez-Martin et al. 2013; Leung et al. 2011; Hackney & Wolf 2014; Liu & Frank 2010). Researchers caution that benefits may not be as great for frail and severely deconditioned adults. They may not be able to perform the moves with enough intensity and duration to achieve significant protection against falls. Even so, a review in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine concluded that tai chi was more effective than other measures for preventing falls in at-risk populations (del-Pino-Casado, Obrero-Gaitan & Lomas-Vega 2016).

Cognition. Tai chi can improve cognition in older adults (Wu et al. 2013; Zheng et al 2015; Wayne et al. 2014; Miller & Taylor-Piliae 2014). Cognition includes executive function, language, learning and memory. Executive function is an umbrella term for a range of cognitive processes, including attention, working memory, problem-solving, processing speed, mental flexibility and other tasks. It is difficult to pin down exactly how the movements enhance cognition. However, it appears that global and executive functioning can improve significantly in people with either no or mild cognitive impairment. The practice may also protect against cognitive decline.

A Key Piece of the Puzzle

Researchers are continuing to investigate how this ancient set of movements can do the most good for the most people. But already, the evidence clearly suggests that, for older exercisers, tai chi should be one piece of an overall exercise program that includes individualized aerobic and strength training.

See also: Tai Chi: The Perfect Balance for Aging Adults



Cody Sipe, PhD

Cody Sipe is an associate professor and director of research at Harding University, co-founder of the Functional Aging Institute, and co-owner of Miracles Fitness. He has 20 years of industry experience as a trainer, manager, director, owner, teacher and researcher. As a recognized leader in functional fitness for older adults he has shared his expertise and cutting-edge approaches with thousands of fitness professionals around the world through numerous publications, international presentations and educational courses. His work has resulted in several awards including the 2005 IDEA Program Director of the Year.

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