A number of studies indicate that seniors and those with other health challenges, including Parkinson’s Disease, fall less frequently if they learn tai chi. So, what is it about tai chi that helps prevent falls? It’s definitely more than just improved balance.
Greater Leg Strength. Practicing tai chi helps develop greater muscle strength, which helps substantially in avoiding falls. Many people spend a lot of time sitting these days, which causes leg muscles to atrophy. The tai chi stepping movements require having the weight on the substantial leg with the knee relaxed much more than we normally do in daily living. In this posture, the easy and gentle stretch of the quadriceps and other muscles in the legs (particularly those around the knees and ankles) not only improve the body’s ability to adapt from one position to another, the legs also gain strength.
Awareness of Feet. Balance requires an awareness and sensitivity in the feet. Most people are not very aware of their feet, often wearing shoes that prohibit movement and sensation of toes, heel, ball and outside of the foot. In practicing tai chi, it is necessary to be acutely aware of the placement, angle, and weight distribution of each foot. Before a fall occurs, there are stages of losing balance, often initiated by a foot starting to slip or rolling onto its outer edge. The greater the awareness of these signals, the earlier corrective action can be taken to restore balance.
Ease in Shifting Weight. Tai chi practice involves shifting the weight from one foot to the other and back, with an acute awareness of the amount of weight on each foot at each moment. This practice and awareness become very useful when a foot slips or is improperly placed, because weight can more readily be shifted to the other foot, thus averting a fall.
Sung. Tai chi movements are done while relaxing the body as much as possible. In Chinese, this is called being sung. This results in the center of gravity being much lower, which means increased stability and less injury should a fall occur.
Vision. When doing the movements of tai chi, the eyes are relaxed, promoting greater use of peripheral vision. The use of peripheral sensor data is an important way of becoming aware that balance is starting to be lost.
Alignment. Correct hip, knee, ankle and foot alignment is very important in tai chi. When the alignment of the legs and feet is off, there is a tendency to avoid distributing body weight equally because the body resists sinking onto a leg that is misaligned. Thus the strength and mobility of the legs is unequal and falls can occur more easily. Tai chi practice helps align the body to its natural state so that both legs are able to function well.
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This post was written by Sifu Darlene Atteberry