Researchers investigated how to implement an engaging tai chi program for older adults, including encouraging home practice.
The researchers evaluated the effectiveness of a six-week tai chi class for 197 participants age 65 to 94 (average 73.9) from three Wisconsin cities. The intervention consisted of a 90-minute tai chi class, held twice a week for six weeks. In each class, participants learned and practiced tai chi exercises, participated in a community-building tea break, and received instructions for practicing tai chi at home. In addition to practicing at home, the intervention also encouraged participants to find ways to incorporate tai chi moves into everyday life. Half of the participants completed the first six-week course and were compared to the control group of participants who were waitlisted for the next course. Both groups completed pre- and post-intervention measures of physical function, balance confidence, and executive function. Almost all participants were white, and most (84%) were women.
The control group was slightly younger on average, but was otherwise comparable to demographics of the intervention group. By the end of the program, the intervention group performed significantly better, compared to the control group, on measures of physical function (timed up and go, and 30-second chair stand) and on one of four measures of balance. Scores on balance confidence and executive function (reasoning and problem-solving ability) were also better compared to the control group.
Apart from the mental and physical benefits of tai chi, this study showed that interventions such as these can be implemented effectively. Participants attended an average of 11 of the 12 classes, and on average practiced the exercises for 28 minutes, six days a week. More than half (57%) reported practicing the exercises every day.
Any sort of activity that gets people up and moving generally has health benefits. Tai chi addresses this, in addition to incorporating mindfulness, coordination, breathing exercises, and social connection when practiced with a group.
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Chewning B, Hallisy KM, Mahoney JE, Wilson D, Sangasubana N, and Gangnon R. Disseminating Tai Chi in the community: Promoting home practice and improving balance. The Gerontologist (2020) 60(4), 765-775.