Beijing: Older adults who practise the Chinese exercise of tai chi are 50 per cent less likely to experience an injury-causing fall, a new study has found.
Researchers compared the effects of tai chi to leg strengthening exercises (a physical therapy called "lower extremity training," or LET) in reducing falls.
They assigned 368 people 60-years-old and older who had received medical attention for a fall into one of two groups. The first group received hour-long individual tai chi classes conducted by tai chi instructors every week for 24 weeks.
Tai chi is an exercise practise developed in China hundreds of years ago. It combines certain postures and gentle movements with mental focus, breathing, and relaxation.
Tai chi can be practised while walking, standing, or even sitting. Deep breathing, weight shifting, and leg stepping movements are part of the practise.
The second group received individual, hour-long LET sessions for 24 weeks conducted by physical therapists. Sessions included stretching, muscle strengthening, and balance training.
Researchers asked participants in both groups to complete at least 80 per cent of their sessions, and also to practise either tai chi or LET at home every day during the six- month program and the 12-month follow-up.
During the course of the study, all participants kept diaries and recorded any falls they experienced, and they shared their diaries with researchers each month.
"I suggest that older adults learn tai chi exercises in a class, and practise at home at least once a day," said Mau-Roung Lin from Taipei Medical University.
After six months of training, people in the tai chi group were significantly less likely to experience an injury-causing fall than were people in the LET group, researchers said.
Even a year after taking the training, people who took tai chi were about 50 per cent less likely to experience an injury-causing fall compared to people in the LET group, they said.
The findings were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.