Practice Tai Chi

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The following is adapted from http://www.alz.org.

Tai Chi: History, Principles and Theory
Tai Chi originated in China in the 17th century as a martial art and means of self-defense. Today it is practiced all over the world as a therapeutic exercise and health practice in the field of complementary and alternative medicine.

Tai Chi is both a physical, and mental exercise, incorporating the Chinese concepts of yin and yang, or opposing and complementary forces within the body, and Qi (Chi), the vital energy or life force. The movements of Tai Chi are done slowly, with emphasis on balance, breath and relaxation.This results in increased flexibility, coordination, strength and focus. Health benefits of Tai Chi include reduced falls due to improved balance and awareness. The meditative aspects of Tai Chi assist in stress reduction, improvement in arthritis, diabetes, immune system function, sleep, fibromyalgia, fatigue and a number of other ailments.

A number of scientific studies have been done and continue to focus on the benefits of Tai Chi practice for the elderly and in specific disease entities. The deliberate movements combined with breath, have demonstrated to have a profound effect on improving health. The Mayo Clinic has listed Tai Chi as one of the top 10 complementary health practices. A study by Steven Wolf, PhD at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA found that people taking part
in a 15 week program decreased their risk of falls by 47.5%. UConn Health Center in Farmington, CT conducted a study that showed Tai Chi to be an effective intervention to improve strength and balance. An article by Dr. Oz, written in the January 31, 2011 issue of Time Magazine reports a 2006 study from New Zealand revealed that “Tai Chi improved the overall mood in patients with traumatic brain injury in a number of ways, including decreasing sadness (12%), confusion (12%), anger (8%), tension (15%), and fear (10%) and increasing energy (14%) and happiness (7%).”

For the patient with Alzheimer’s, following simple movements with repetition offers a means of exercise without increased mental or physical stress. Though there is no evidence that Tai Chi prevents the progression of Alzheimer’s, there is evidence that new neural pathways are developed in the brain. The effect of this may manifest in the slowing of symptoms. An Alzheimer’s patient can experience all of the other benefits of Tai Chi including increased flexibility, evidenced by an increased ability to perform activities of daily living and a decrease in illness as the result of improved breathing and overall immune system function. Quality of life is improved for both patient and caregiver. As an activity that can be done alone or in a group as a means of social contact, Tai Chi helps connect us to our self and to our
community.

For the full article, please click here.

There are many DVDs that can help you get started, but personally I recommend taking a class instead. It’s much easier to learn from someone you can interact with, and it may help prevent injury to have someone correct your movements if necessary. It’s also easier for many of us to do something if it’s scheduled rather than relying on our own motivation to pop the tape in the DVD player. Many health clubs, senior centers, YMCAs, and community learning centers offer beginning Tai Chi classes, many of which may be geared specifically towards seniors. Those in the early stages of memory loss can probably participate in a small group class independently, but it may be easier if they have a “buddy” who can help repeat instructions if necessary. Besides, Tai Chi isn’t just good for those with memory loss, so no one has an excuse to sit this one out!

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