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.

Focus on This in Summer to Protect Your Balance

delicious fruit flavored water at the beach

Most people associate winter with increased danger for loss of balance and falls. But did you know that summer can be just as dangerous?

The hazards are different, of course. A recent French study showed that dehydration can weaken cognitive function as well as the muscles. This means that recognition of a hazard can be delayed, as well as the reaction time necessary to avoid it.

Many dehydration studies have been carried out on athletes and others under extreme conditions, studying dizziness, loss of function and loss of electrolytes, so the French study is interesting in that it looked at normal women, doing regular tasks, half of whom went 24 hours without water or other drinks, whilst the control group were kept hydrated.

The group suffering from dehydration experienced higher heart rate (though not in the clinically significant range), sleepiness, confusion and decreased alertness.

The human balance system relies on good input from the senses (the soles of the feet, the vestibular system – where the limbs are in space – inner ear, eyes) and strong communication between the brain and muscles to react to that stimuli, in order to keep the body balanced and moving around safely.

In parts of the world where summer is particularly hot, dehydation can occur surprisingly quickly. One of the side effects of aging is that it is harder to sense when you are dehydrated, which means that often older adults suffer from mild to moderate dehydration without even being aware of it.

In the real world, this can have significant consequences as in summer people often travel to new locations, where their balance is put under further pressure. See this article published in The Traveling Boomer blog for some of the other ways that travel can impact balance and fall risk.

So buy up that watermelon, or whip up your favorite mocktail if you’re bored of just plain water. Make staying hydrated fun, whether you’re going to the gym, hanging out with friends, or absorbing a new culture.

3 Simple Ways to Improve Balance

With the change of seasons, we often change our activities, and that’s when we can become aware that we don’t feel as steady or as strong as we’d like.

Maybe you’re getting back to the tennis court after the winter, or exercising outside rather than in the gym. Or maybe you’re just in need of a change. But is your balance good enough, or does it also need some attention?

If you haven’t been challenging it recently, the chances are your balance isn’t as strong as it was. The good news is that by adding balance exercises today, your body will soon respond, and your balance will improve. As with any exercise program, take advice from a professional fitness instructor or physical therapist and start easy. Don’t put yourself at risk of injury.

  • Stand up: In order to challenge your balance, you need to be using it. While many exercises that include sitting or lying can deliver health benefits, they won’t help your balance specifically. Make sure you include movements where you are standing or moving on your feet.
  • Use your legs: The muscles at the front and back of the legs, and the butt, are the most important muscles when it comes to your balance. And most of us don’t challenge them enough. Squats and lunges are important to do properly in order to protect your knees and back. If you’re not sure, get advice from someone who can watch your form and make sure you’re doing them correctly. You can also do this sit-stand exercise from the CDC.
  • Do it every day: You don’t have to throw heavy weights around, but incorporating a few balance exercises into your daily life will help it improve faster. If you can stand on one leg, try doing it while brushing your teeth, for example. Once a balance exercise become easy, it’s time to think about increasing the level of challenge, there are a number of tools available to help you do this.

Like what you read here? You can sign up to our newsletter for more tips and information, as well as special offers on Zibrio SmartScales and other balance products.

Free Balance Screenings

If you’re in Houston over the next week, come and talk to us, we’ll be out in the community. Get a free balance screening, find out how your habits impact your balance and enter to win a free personal balance consultation with Dr Katharine Forth, our human motor control expert.

Thursday April 11, 8-10am & Wednesday April 17, 9-11

Senior Services Center, 6104 Auden, West University Place, Houston, 77005

Shhhh. Big News Coming Soon

You’re going to love this. We’ve talked and researched and planned and tested. Then refined and tested and modified and improved. We’re so excited to share with you the next stage, the one that will matter most to you.

And the wait is nearly over!

zibrio at sxsw

Come and see us at SXSW in Austin, Tx this weekend. We’d love to meet you, have you test out our balance scale. Follow us on Facebook to find out where we are and what we’re up to.

Want to be the first to discover balance freebies, plus a limited time offer to grab a Zibrio SmartScale at a discount? Add your email below and we’ll make sure you get ahead of the crowd.


Give Your Balance Some Love

We spend most of our lives neglecting it, yet we depend on it for basic functioning. What would these simple tasks be like without balance?

  • Walking
  • Reaching into / up to a shelf or cupboard
  • Dancing
  • Getting up from a bed
  • Sitting down in a chair
  • Going up stairs
  • Playing your favorite game or sport
  • Closing your eyes for a romantic kiss

They all use multiple parts of the systems that make up our balance. So isn’t it time you gave your balance some love to keep it going strong? The nice thing about balance is that it’s not very high maintenance. It doesn’t demand outrageous commitment (unless your need outrageous balance).

For those of you who aren’t into slacklining 3,000 feet above a valley floor, helping your balance can be as simple as adding a couple of exercises to your gym routine. Or standing on one leg while brushing your teeth (obviously don’t do this if you feel it’s too difficult – see our balance training guide).

As well as training the neuromuscular system, exercises like Tai Chi, squats and lunges help with leg strength, which can be a key part of what is missing as people age. Even those who run regularly can benefit from the greater range of movement delivered by these exercises, and from working different sets of muscles.

Download Free Ebook on the Science of Balance

How Trendy is your Workout?

is your fitness on trend

The American College of Sports Medicine releases an annual survey on fitness trends each year. Want to know how trendy you are? Looking for the next cool thing to spice up your exercise commitment? Zibrio took a look at the results on your behalf.

ACSM surveys fitness professionals around the world, and look for trends, not flash-in-the-pan fads that won’t last. They’re designed to help fitness professionals and community centers decide what to invest in for their customers.

#1: Wearables

Up from #3 spot last year, wearables are once again high on everyone’s list. Whether you use them to track what you do, or remind you what to do when, they’re becoming the new standard.

#4: Older Adult Fitness

This has been in the top 10 for the last few years, rising from #9 last year as more people who’ve grown up with the fitness movement grow into the ‘over 50’ category. Baby boomers and the generations before them often have more time to exercise, value group exercise and can take advantage of the quieter times at the gym while younger generations are at work. Thanks to organizations like Silver Sneakers, YMCA, and other big gym franchises, this age group has more variety than ever to choose from: lower impact exercise classes, and balance specific workouts. There are also increasing numbers of personal trainers who are qualified to help mature exercisers with their health goals.

#10: Exercise as Medicine

This phrase is everywhere in 2019, along with its cousin, ‘food as medicine’. The medical establishment is increasingly citing the benefits of exercise, and not just for heart health or to manage weight. Many chronic pain conditions can be improved – or at least the symptoms can be managed – with the right type of exercise. There are even reports from the United Kingdom of doctors prescribing dancing to some patients!

#13: Mobile Apps

As fitness tracking moves to your wrist, apps available for your phone continue to grow in variety and scope: watch videos of how to do a particular exercise, take photos of your own workout, manually add untracked activities to your profile. Their usefulness and improved user interface pushes this trend up from #26 last year.

#16: Outcome Measurements

Possibly the most useful trend of all. If you’re spending all that time, effort and money on the classes and apps and healthy habits, you’d want to know they were working, right? Weight measurement has been around for a while. Now, especially when working with a personal trainer, you can measure a host of other outcomes that show you’re becoming a fitter, better you.

New Guidelines for Health

keep moving

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has updated the physical activity guidelines for all Americans.

Main takeaways include:

  • Adults of all ages should move more and sit less
  • Any moderate to vigorous activity counts (and there are some ideas and planners available – see below)
  • Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous exercise
  • All adults should do some kind of strength training at least 2 days per week
  • Any amount of exercise has immediate benefits, including less anxiety, lower blood pressure, better sleep and better insulin response
  • New research shows even more long term benefits for those who exercise, including reducing the risk of 8 types of cancer (bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and lung).
  • Exercise also reduces the risk of dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), all-cause mortality, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and depression; and improves bone health, physical function, and quality of life.
  • For older adults, physical activity also lowers the risk of falls and injuries from falls.
  • New research also highlights that exercise helps manage chronic conditions: reduces pain from osteoarthrits, slow progression for hypertension and type 2 diabetes, manage symptoms of Parkinsons, dementia, anxiety and depression.

Lots of activities can be counted as exercise, including shoveling snow and playing with children or pets. There are also so many exercises to choose from, to help ward off boredom and increase the chance to socialize with others.

Give yourself the gift of better health this holiday season, and well into the future. You can check out the health.gov planner by clicking on the link below.

Move Your Way link: Want to get more physical activity? Build a weekly plan

Why Balance is Like Flossing

teeth in balance

You’re lying in the dentist’s chair and he or she asks whether you floss regularly. You nod, and avoid their eyes. Because you know they can see, from the plaque on your teeth, that ‘regularly’ is stretching the truth a bit. You own floss, you do use it – especially after eating ribs or corn – but not exactly every day.

So it is with most of our health. We know what we should be doing, but unless someone is holding up a mirror to us, or displaying pounds on a scale, we sometimes gloss over the truth to ourselves.

Balance is in many ways a holistic measure of a person’s health and fitness. So if you exercise regularly, and challenge your muscles and your balance, it will improve. If you have a period of time where you’re just going through the motions, or skipping the difficult exercises, your balance will deteriorate over time.

Like flossing, you really can’t fake it.

The good news is that, unlike flossing, you can take up balance exercises at any point and start to see improvements within a short period of time. How quickly will depend on a number of factors, including your general fitness and how hard you work at it. There is no quick fix: only by doing will your balance improve.

What should I do?

If you’ve been neglecting balance – or never worked specifically on balance before, it’s worth talking to a personal trainer or instructor who can help assess where you are and how best to move forwards. If you like the social element of group exercise classes, look for Tai Chi or beginner’s yoga near you. The instructor will help you form the poses correctly to maximize benefit and minimize risk of injury.

Even if you’re a regular exerciser or sportsperson, it’s worth checking that you’ve not fallen into a rut with your training. Adding balance training into your workout can help avoid injury and overtraining too.

Free ebook on balance

Click the link above to receive a free ebook on balance and how it works in the body.

Free Balance Screening

secret to better balance

This Fall, the Zibrio team will be running free balance events at various locations in the Houston, Tx, area.

If you’ve always wanted to know how to measure your balance, or understand the factors which affect your balance , come along to one of the following locations.

Simply stand on the smart Zibrio scale for 1 minute. You’ll receive your unique balance score – a snapshot of how you’re balancing today – as well as personalized insights into how to improve it.

We look forward to meeting you!

Bayland Community Center: 18 September 2018 @ 9.15am
Tracy Gee Community Center: 19 September 2018 @ 8.30 am
Houstonian Club22 September 2018 @10 am
Trini Mendenhall Community Center26 September 2018 @ 9.00am
Starbucks, Augusta Drive: 9 October 2018 @ 9.30 am
Trotter YMCA, Augusta Drive: 31 October 2018 @ 10.30 am

For further information, contact us, or one of the centers directly.