Practicing tai chi reduces risk of falling in older adults

Practicing tai chi reduces risk of falling in older adults

Recently, researchers compared the effects of tai chi to leg strengthening exercises (a physical therapy called "lower extremity training," or LET) in reducing falls. Falls are a leading cause of serious injuries in older adults and can lead to hospitalization, nursing home admission, and even death. Arthritis, heart disease, muscle weakness, vision and balance problems, dementia, and other age-related health problems can increase an older adult's risk for experiencing a fall. The study is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

In their study, researchers 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 practice developed in China hundreds of years ago. It combines certain postures and gentle movements with mental focus, breathing, and relaxation. Tai chi can be practiced while you're walking, standing, or even seated. Deep breathing, weight shifting, and leg stepping movements are part of the practice. The second group received individual, hour-long LET sessions for 24 weeks conducted by physical therapists. Sessions included stretching, muscle strengthening, and balance training. "

The researchers asked participants in both groups to complete at least 80 percent of their sessions, and also to practice 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.

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. Even a year after taking the training, people who took tai chi were about 50 percent less likely to experience an injury-causing fall compared to people in the LET group.

Though participants in the study took individualized tai chi classes at home, "I suggest that older adults learn tai chi exercises in a class, and practice at home at least once a day," said Mau-Roung Lin, PhD, Professor and Director of the Institute of Injury Prevention and Control, Taipei Medical University in Taipei, Taiwan, a co-author of the study." ~


Currently, known effective interventions include exercise; single non-exercise interventions targeting people with specific risk factors; and multi-factorial interventions. Below are some of the strategies for which there is strong evidence of their effectiveness.


Exercise for community-dwelling older people is the most studied and effective single falls prevention intervention. The 2019 Cochrane review of exercise for falls prevention included 108 trials and confirmed that exercise can prevent falls in the community, reducing both the rate of falls (number of falls experienced per person) and the number of people who fall at least once per year (proportion of people who fall). 9 This review categorised exercise programs as primarily involving different types of exercise according to criteria established by the European Union-funded ProFaNE group.10 As not all exercise modalities were equally effective in preventing falls, the impact of different types of exercise was explored independently.

Conclusions from this review were that effective forms of exercise to prevent falls in older people are:

(i) exercise that primarily targets functional abilities or balance,

(ii) exercise with multiple components (most commonly function/balance and strength),

(iii) Tai Chi.

Conversely, there is no evidence that strength training alone, walking alone, or dance will prevent falls.

~ Why investing in falls prevention across Australia can’t wait

Falls Risk, falls preventive -

Benefits of Tai chi -



Tai Chi has been found to reduce falls in older adults in large studies where the inherently low rate of falls in this population could be ascertained. In the first large study of community-living older adults, 15 weeks of Tai Chi reduced the risk of repeat falls by 47% but not on the incidence of new falls (Wolf et al., 1996). Although the relative risk for falls was not significant in a transitionally frail older adults (N=291), the fall rate was 47.6% in the Tai Chi group and 60.3% in the wellness education group (Wolf et al., 2003). In persons with Parkinson’s disease, the incidence of falls was significantly lower for Tai Chi than resistance exercise (Li et al., 2012). In a larger randomized clinical trial (Voukelatos, Cumming, Lord & Rissel, 2007), older adults (N=710) completed a 16 weeks of weekly Tai Chi. Twenty-two Tai Chi instructors from the community provided classes consistent with the styles that they normally taught. Participants paid a small amount for the sessions. At 16 weeks, the unadjusted and adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) for one or more falls approached significance (p<0.07) but were significant for two or more falls (HR=0.33 and 0.25, respectively). At 24 weeks, the HRs were significant for one or more falls (HR=0.67 and 0.66, respectively) and for two or more falls (HR=0.33 and 0.27, respectively)."


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