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(4 pages total)

Page 2 - Ancient T'ai Chi Exercises Effective in Preventing Falls

The Tai Chi component of the study took place at Emory University in Atlanta under the supervision of Dr. Steve Wolf from the Department of Rehabilitative Medicine. While the JAMA article did much to open doctors' eyes to Tai Chi's benefits, it didn't go into detail about the Tai Chi study. Wolf forged ahead with a more detailed report for the Journal of the American Geriatic Society. After some frustrating delays in the process, Wolf is relieved that his report is finally in the May, 1996 issue of the Journal. Emory is known for its open minded approach to finding health care solutions and in a typically Taoist example of convergence, it so happened that Tai Chi Master Tingsen Xu was a visiting professor of Biochemistry at Emory in 1990 when it came time to put together this study. Wolf said, "we worked with Xu to synthesize the 108 moves down to 10 that we felt from a physiotherapeutic and rehab perspective represented movements that often become compromised in folks as they get older -- most notably trunk and body rotation and the ability to maintain a narrower base of support." *

The Emory site compared Tai Chi to the expensive, technologically advanced Chattecx Balance System of Chatanooga Corp. Chattecx uses an independently mounted balance platform for each foot. The subjects' feet are hooked to sensors, four on each foot -- front left, front right, rear left, rear right. They view a cursor that represents their center of balance on a computer monitor. Subjects were told to keep their balance aligned perfectly and trained to improve their performance, kind of like an interactive video game for senior citizens. The premise relies on biofeedback; showing participants their actual center of balance is intended to help them better maintain that center of balance even when they're not hooked up to the machine. And it did work.

Wolf points out that the balance platform participants could maintain their center of balance better than Tai Chi students, but that this didn't help them outside the laboratory. "...the notion of training people, especially older people, to maintain their center of mass within their base of support as the way to secure safety, is not necessarily correct." The world isn't a place where we stand with our feet parallel and try to orient ourselves to a computer screen. In the real world, we walk in poor light, encounter unfamiliar obstacles and traverse uneven ground. "You have to be placed in dynamic situations so you can develop strategies that will enable you to succeed in regaining your balance," said Wolf. In these real world situations, Tai Chi's renowned centering principles made the difference that no other exercise could match.

The Emory study looked at seven therapeutic benefits for Tai Chi:

  • Continuous movement.

  • Small to large degrees of motion depending on the individual.

  • Flexed knees with distinct weight shifts between legs.

  • Straightening and extending head and trunk for less 'flexed' posture. Attention developed to prevent leaning of trunk or protrusion of the sacrum.

  • Trunk and head rotates as a unit during circular movements that emphasize rotation. Eyes follow movement, promoting head and trunk rotation through eye centering and eye movements.

  • Asymmetrical and diagonal arm and leg movements promote arm swing and rotation around the waist axis.

  • Unilateral weight bearing with constant shifting to and from right and left legs to build strength for unilateral weight bearing and improve unilateral balance through knowledge of one's balance limitations and practice of movements within those limitations.

  • Compare these benefits with the list of conditions that all exercise programs for the elderly must address:

  • Slowed movement.

  • Reduced range of motion and strength.

  • Increased flexed / stooped/ posture.

  • Reduced rotational movements.

  • Limited arm swing.

  • Decreased unilateral weight bearing.

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