How Does Tai Chi Help Balance?

This is a guest post from Dianne Bailey, CSCS, FAS, CTCI.

There are many studies that show a decrease in the fall risk for those that participate in Tai Chi, but there are few discussions about why or how Tai Chi has any effect on improving balance.  As a long time Tai Chi practitioner and instructor, I would like to posit some ideas to explain this phenomenon.

There are some basic underlying principles in Tai Chi and these principles are what really drive the benefits including improved balance.  Here is a list of some of these principles and how applying them to your movement can help reduce the risk of falling.

Columns:  There are 3 columns in your body.  One runs straight down the center of your body and the other 2 run from your shoulder vertically through your hip on both sides. These columns need to keep their integrity by keeping your shoulders above your hips.  Think about a person using a walker.  They are typically bent forward somewhat and have broken their “columns.”  This bent over position is a risk factor for falling. The idea of keeping the “columns” intact not only helps people keep a good posture, but encourages them to keep their eyes on the horizon and not look down all the time.

Moving from the dan tian:  The dan tian is 2 inches in from the belly button and 2 inches down.  It is the center of your energy in Tai Chi and it is also the center of your mass. By thinking about moving from the dan tian, you will keep your columns intact and won’t lead with your shoulders or head as you step forward.

Substantial and insubstantial:  This principle deals with understanding where your weight is at all times during movement.  One leg is substantial and is your base of support.  The other leg is insubstantial so you can move forward, backward or to the side.  As you move, you should be aware of bringing your dan tian to your substantial side.  In other words, you are bringing your center of mass over your base of support which is ideal for balance.

Rooted and grounded: The idea of being rooted and grounded in Tai Chi is one of “fluid stability.”  While you can imagine roots growing deep and wide from your feet, you are not glued to the ground.  It’s more of an awareness through your feet and allowing them to react to the ground.  It’s also the idea of lowering your center of gravity slightly which makes you more stable.

pheasant stands pose

Relaxation:  Believe it or not, being able to relax as you move is important for balance.  When your body is tense, you are less likely to adapt to change and therefore, you are at a greater risk for falling.

If you are interested in learning some Tai Chi on your own, you might be interested in the Daily Series from the Open the Door to Tai Chi system.  One of the videos in this series is specifically geared towards balance.  The Basics of Balance will teach you some movements from the Yang style of Tai Chi and teach you how to apply the underlying principles.  For more information, go to: https://taichisystem.com/daily-series/

As a fitness professional, martial artist, and owner of a successful personal training studio in Denver, Dianne is passionate about creating the best opportunities for the mature adult to enjoy health and fitness. This passion has led her to create a system for learning Tai Chi which will empower fitness professionals to be able to offer this amazing form of exercise to their clientele and help others learn this wonderful form of “movement meditation.” 

Dianne is a CSCS, a Functional Aging Specialist and a Certified Tai Chi Instructor. She has presented the benefits of Tai Chi at the Functional Aging Summit, ICAA Conference and Fitness Fest. In her engaging, easy-going yet commanding style, she hopes to encourage people to include Tai Chi in their offerings.

How To Start an Exercise Program At Any Age

By Althea Cameron

The benefits of exercise are well documented, and studies show that it is never too late to start exercising. The Centers for Disease Control Prevention points out that older adults can benefit greatly from even moderate amounts of physical activity. One benefit is reducing the risk of debilitating conditions such as developing high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes. Here are four points that you should consider if you are thinking about starting an exercise program after a period of inactivity.

Consult your doctor

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

This step is extremely important, especially if you have been sedentary for a period of time. Your doctor will advise you on how much physical activity your body can handle and explain how you should move forward. Your doctor will also give you pointers on recovery, which will come in handy during your first few sessions.

Think of what you love doing . . . and do it

Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym. A walk around the neighborhood can be just as effective as time spent on a cardio machine if it means you stick to it regularly. Combining physical activity with a passion or hobby you have always wanted to do is a great way to start an exercise program and can also be a way of making new friends. If others rely on your joining them on a bike ride every week, you are less likely to give it up. 

If you used to be fit there is no reason why you can’t return to good form as you get older. Just as with those new to exercise, it’s important to start slow and gradually build up your strength and stamina. It can be worthwhile to hire a coach for a few sessions to help ease you back into your sport and advise you on additional routines to stay injury free.

Start a new sport

photo credit: pexels

It is never too late to start a new sport, and there are many health and social benefits that come with a new physical activity. Swimming is an excellent choice, as it is low impact, which can be better for joints.  An inspiration in this regard is Maurine Kornfield, who at 97 is the oldest active member of the 64,000-strong U.S. Masters Swimming. What’s more, she started swimming just before her 60th birthday and has since then set 16 world records for her age group. 

Also highly recommended is tennis. Melissa Neiman’s article on ‘5 Great Sports to Take Up After the Age 50’ notes that the benefits of playing tennis include “higher aerobic capacities, lower resting heart rate, and blood pressure responses, improved metabolic function, improved skeletal integrity, improved reaction time, and decreased stress reactivity.” 

Tennis, while largely high impact, is noted by Harvard Health to be a sport for life. It can be played even in your later years because it can be customized and slowed down (much like walking soccer) to suit your age and fitness level. You can, for instance, walk instead of sprint, volley rather than smash, or let a ball sail by rather than dive for it. These adjustments lower the impact in a way that even older adults can continue playing. This is the reason that former tennis pros like John McEnroe and Pete Sampras can still play, even after leaving the ATP Tour. While still having the ability to run around the court, McEnroe and Sampras have definitely had to adjust their games since. 

Recently, Sampras (47) played in an impromptu doubles exhibition at Indian Wells with Novak Djokovic as his teammate and fellow former professionals Tommy Haas (41) and John McEnroe (60) as their opponents. Sampras is one of the highest earning tennis stars of all-time due to his record-breaking Grand Slam haul, and he has continued to play exhibition matches well into his 40s. The fact that Sampras (and Haas and McEnroe for that matter) continue to play is proof that tennis isn’t just for people in their prime. There are even tennis clubs that focus on this demographic, and joining one is a great way to get involved in the sport. Not to mention, by doing this it will expand your social network, leading to opportunities to further improve your game as you develop.

Give structured exercise a chance

photo from pexels.com

You’ll need to step out from your comfort zone from time to time, especially if you don’t feel up to playing sport. Structured exercise programs such as yoga or Tai Chi can improve flexibility, enhance balance, and increase strength. A study focusing on how a ‘Structured Exercise Program Improves Mobility in All Older Adults’ underscores the importance of this type of approach, with the main takeaway being: Older adults who partake in “long-term, structured, moderate-intensity physical activity programs” have lower risks of mobility disability and frailty. It is also a good way to meet people who are also starting an exercise program.

Althea Cameron is a health and fitness writer, based in the UK. She is passionate about health, and the intersection with technology.

Resilience: The Enduring Philosophy of Thriving Older Adults

As the US population continues to grow, so does the aging population. The number of Americans aged 65 and older is projected to double from 46 million to more than 98 million by 20601. Staying healthy, active and productive are admirable goals for our nation’s older adults. However, society’s traditional view of “old age” has not always kept up with the reality of being old in America. Many older adults and others in society buy into the old myths of fragility, feebleness, forgetfulness, and senility2. Therefore, many are treated by healthcare providers as such and may and/or have been pigeonholed to those stereotypes. Physical therapists are in one of the best roles to dramatically change this practice and improve the aging populations health status and function. The goal in this article is to help the physical therapist incorporate the concept of resilience into the rehab process.

Resilience: The Game Changer

Resilience is described as the ability to achieve, retain, or regain a level of physical or emotional health after illness or loss3. There are multiple interventions as listed below that physical therapists can perform in clinic to help their older adult clients learn resiliency skills. Additionally, older adults can achieve greater outcomes in physical therapy as a result of learning these skills. This provides another avenue in which a physical therapist can be more effective.

Physical therapists can provide a quick written guide (pamphlet in their waiting room or as a parting gift provided at their first appointment) to their older adult population on local community and/or outreach groups that are specific to certain conditions or just for general social interaction. There a multitude of different national organizations in the government and NGO’s involved in improving the nation’s older adults.
For example: National Coalition on Aging created an Aging Mastery Program with reading materials and access to classes that are led by expert speakers who help participants gain the skills and tools they need to manage their health, remain economically secure, and contribute actively in society.

Education is key with the older population.

It is necessary to take time (even a whole PT session) to go over concept points on resilience and use client centered language that makes the client feel heard. Furthermore, it might be helpful to ask the client to bring in important family members that either help in their care or are essential to their social identity.
Physical therapy clinics can and sometimes do provide info-seminars. These seminars can bring together older adults with similar and/or different conditions in order to promote camaraderie and dissemination of knowledge.
Open floor clinics are sometimes a great setting for older adults to come in and use their session as a way to socialize with others with similar changes to their lifestyle. Many times this gives that older adult a glimpse into the future success they will incur with continuing their PT program.

It is not a form of defeat for a physical therapist to refer individuals who display symptoms of severe depression and or other mental health disorders to an appropriate mental health professional

Physical therapists who are owners of a brick and mortar clinic can provide fun and interesting group classes that target at risk older adults (dance, yoga, stretching, etc). Making it more of a recreational activity can boost self esteem and create a meaningful experience.

During the session focused activities to enhance happiness, with the conclusion that doing so can improve resilience. This can be done by creating positive goals (written in clinic or in a daily journal) related to previous activities that have made the client optimistic about the future or happy in the present.

Other effective interventions may emphasize the strengths of older adults, including the ability to establish and maintain social connections, willingness to help others, and desire to engage in the community. For example having a retired family law practitioner who just underwent a knee replacement to help get back to standing for hours on end in order to provide pro bono work for at risk youth3.

In conclusion:

Clinicians must educate older adults about topic of resilience and the importance of physical activity in any form. It empowers older adults to play a more informed, active role in their own health. Clinicians can correct misconceptions that illness and disabilities are caused by activity or necessitate inactivity.

References:

http://www.apa.org/pi/aging/resources/guides/older.aspx
http://transgenerational.org/aging/myths-of-aging.htm
MacLeod S et al. (2016). The impact of resilience among older adults. Geriatric Nursing, 37, 4, 266-72.

Brain Boosting Benefits in 60 Seconds?

Would you like your brain to operate as if it were 7 years younger? Would you like an improved memory, clearer thinking, less stress?

Recent scientific studies have found there is a way to invite these benefits into your life. It doesn’t have to cost you a cent, and anyone can do it. You can enjoy improved concentration, better sleep, lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, and lower blood pressure, through a daily practice of Mindful Meditation.

But isn’t meditation only for spiritual folk?, I hear some people ask. Do I have to spend hours crossed-legged on the floor, clearing my mind and retreating from reality? The answer to these questions is No.

Firstly , yes meditation can be part of a spiritual belief system, but it doesn’t have to be. Secondly, you may like to sit cross-legged , but it is also possible to practice in a chair, or in some situations, meditate lying down. Meditations can last from 1 minute to as long as you like. I recommend building up to 20 minutes a day when you’re starting out.

And no, this isn’t taking a break from reality. It can feel like a wonderful time-out, but as you use Mindful Meditation regularly, you will find yourself connecting more to reality and the world in a positive and gentle way.

Sound good? Let’s get started! Read through this list of steps and then you can begin.

First, get comfortable. The aim is ‘restful alertness’. You can sit upright in a chair with your back straight. Place the soles of your feet on the floor.

Take a moment to notice your surroundings and then turn your attention to your breathing. Take slow deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Now, breathing gently, slowly close your eyes. Without judgment, notice the rise and fall of your chest and the sensation of air moving at the tip of your nose.

Know that distractions are a normal part of Mindful Meditation, they are part of the meditation practice. If you have thoughts, you can acknowledge them. These are not bad thoughts, nor good thoughts, they are just thoughts.   Let them go and return your attention to your breath.

After at least a minute, and when you are ready to bring your mindfulness practice to a close, take a deeper breath in, and on the outbreath you can gently open your eyes. How do you feel? Calmer? Refreshed?

Mindful Meditation strengthens your awareness of the present moment.  It empowers you to see situations more clearly and enables you to choose how you respond. You can use this technique when you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, or if you feel yourself getting annoyed. Close your eyes, concentrate on your breath, and take a moment to pause.