Elderly people who live in senior housing communities can benefit from residentially based tai chi programs, according to a report in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society (2014; 62 [8]; 1484–89; doi: 10.1111/jgs.12946).

Researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston and
the National Central University in Jhongli, Taiwan, wanted to determine the effects of a tai chi training program on functional performance, and on walking while performing another task, among older adults living in a supportive-care facility.

Researchers enrolled 35 men and women in a tai chi group and 31 in
a control group for the randomized, controlled trial. All volunteers were over age 70 (average age, 87). Tai chi group members practiced exercises from Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s Yang-style short form twice weekly for 12 weeks, in 1-hour sessions, with a maximum
of 12 people in a group. Each person received a DVD with instructions
to practice at home for 20 minutes
3 days a week. The control group attended twice-weekly 1-hour educational sessions consisting of lectures, discussions and patient handouts.

Investigators assessed all study subjects at baseline and at the end of 12 weeks for physical function, balance, mobility, and walking with and without performing a cognitive task.

Data analysis showed that tai
chi participants displayed improved physical function, better balance, and faster walking speed when performing a cognitive task, compared with members of the control group. Study authors concluded that tai chi training might be a safe, inexpensive and feasible therapeutic option for helping vulnerable individuals of advanced age to maintain functional independence.

Study authors recommended doing additional research with more participants, other forms of exercise, and analysis to determine whether tai chi practice reduces healthcare use. The authors noted that a unique aspect of this study was the advanced age of participants and noted that perhaps even more improvement would have occurred in somewhat younger people.

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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