November 2018

Can Tai chi prevent falls?

Falls are a serious health concern for older adults. Exercise is often recommended for prevention, but knowing which TYPE of exercise to suggest can be difficult. Multimodal exercise regimens consisting of strength training, aerobics, balance training, and flexibility exercises are commonly recommended. But new data suggests that tai chi might be more beneficial.

A large clinical trial in older, high-risk adults shows that practicing a form of tai chi called Tai Ji Quan Moving for Better Balance for 1 hour twice weekly for 6 months prevents falls better than stretching or multimodal exercise. Patients in the tai chi group experienced significantly fewer falls compared with either of the other groups.

However, some caveats should be noted. The form of tai chi used in the new study differs from tai chi used as a martial art or for recreation. Tai Ji Quan Moving for Better Balance is a research-based training program designed to address issues associated with falls in older adults. Not all patients may have access to this form of tai chi. Furthermore, the cost of the intervention is about $900 for 24 weeks (approximately $19 per class). For some older adults, this expense might not be feasible.

Keeping this in mind, recommend that patients considering tai chi look for classes taught by instructors licensed in Tai Ji Quan Moving for Better Balance. If this form of tai chi is not available or is not financially viable for the patient, recommend other forms of exercise such as balance exercises, stretching, toe stands, and walking. Don’t discourage patients from traditional tai chi, but let them know that there is no strong evidence that these exercises are more beneficial than multimodal exercise.

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