Tai Chi, the ancient meditative Chinese exercise practice, has been found to reduce falls among stroke survivors by helping them maintain balance and make progress in their recovery.
The findings, presented by University of Arizona researchers at the American Stroke Association's international conference this week, suggest Tai Chi could provide a simple, effective, and inexpensive complement to conventional stroke rehabilitation and recovery programs.
"Learning how to find and maintain your balance after a stroke is a challenge," said lead researcher Ruth E. Taylor-Piliae, an assistant professor at the University’s College of Nursing in Tucson. "Tai Chi is effective in improving both static and dynamic balance, which is important to prevent falls. Tai Chi is readily available in most U.S. cities and is relatively inexpensive."
Stroke survivors are seven times more likely to suffer a fall than healthy adults, Taylor-Piliae noted. Such falls can cause fractures, decrease mobility, and increase fears that lead to social isolation or dependence.
To test the effectiveness of Tai Chi in preventing debilitating falls, the researchers recruited a group of Tucson-area stroke survivors — with an average age of 70 years old — to learn the martial arts practice, which involves slow dance-like movements, mental concentration, and relaxed breathing.
Among the participants, 30 practiced Tai Chi, 28 were given standard care, and 31 participated in the SilverSneakers exercise program. The Tai Chi and Silver Sneakers groups took part in a one-hour exercise class three times each week for 12 weeks. The standard care group received a weekly phone call and written material about physical activity.
During the study, 34 falls were reported in participants' homes. Just five of the seniors participating in the Tai Chi group experienced falls — one third as many as those in the other groups (15 falls were reported among standard care recipients; 14 falls in the Silver Sneakers group).
"The main physical benefits of Tai Chi are better balance, improved strength, flexibility, and aerobic endurance," Taylor-Piliae said. "Psycho-social benefits include less depression, anxiety and stress, and better quality of life."
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