How to Bounce Back from Sickness

We can’t control everything: sometimes life throws us curve balls. The question is, can you get back up after a serious illness, even later in life?

Karen is an active and positive art teacher to adults. One day, she suffered an allergic reaction which made her very ill, culminated double pneumonia and triggered Atrial Fibrillation.

After recovering from the pneumonia, she still had the AFib to deal with. Many doctors told her that, at her age (74), she should count her blessings, rather than expect to change anything.

But Karen had been pretty active all through her life. Not run-all-the-races athletic, but she’d always enjoyed walking and dancing; things now made difficult with AFib. She began to feel depressed, unable to take walks in her local area that had previously been part of her life: seeing the changing seasons in the hedgerows: new buds, new birds, deer and rabbits, leaves falling in autumn. All of it suddenly denied to her.

senior woman doing tai chi

Unsure of exactly what to do, she decided to take up again a practise she and her husband had experimented with a few years before: Tai Chi.  Their master had left the area, but she still remembered the moves. Now Karen started to do them by herself. First thing every morning, she did a simple 15 minute sequence.

“It made me feel connected to my surroundings and ready to meet the day”

She liked the breathing, the concentration of fitting the moves together. The gentle movement from one form to another.

Karen was also a participant in a Zibrio study on balance. We measured her twice, and tracked her health changes for a year. She was blinded to her score (so it couldn’t affect her choices).

We first measured her about 12 months after the pneumonia. Then again 9 months later, after she’d taken up the Tai Chi practise again. At the time of her first testing, she scored 4/10, just above the high risk for falling. After her regular Tai Chi practise, her score rose to 8/10.

Many things affect balance, so it was interesting that the only thing Karen reported had changed in that time had been her daily commitment to the Tai Chi sequence.

The good news, as Karen, and others in our Personal Stories series discovered, is that just as balance can get worse, it can also get better at any time of life, depending on what we do. It’s the ultimate example of ‘use it or lose it‘.

We are interested in partnering with a robust trial using Tai Chi as an intervention for fall risk to be able to quantify the benefits. In the meantime, these studies demonstrate the positive effect of Tai Chi on lowering fall risk, and improving the management of a number of medical conditions.

If you want to learn more about Tai Chi in your area, the American Tai Chi Association has details, and also ask at your local community center or gym as they frequently offer classes. Bear in mind that exercises to improve balance are best done standing, not seated.

Note: This story is just one person, and the Tai Chi part wasn’t part of a controlled intervention, so we can’t draw any scientific conclusions from Karen’s experience. We share it with you as part of our personal stories series, intended to inspire people and show that balance can improve at any stage and any age. Always speak to your doctor before starting new exercise, and seek the help of a qualified professional.