Older adults who practice tai chi are less likely to fall, suggests a small recent study.
The researchers said that older people who practiced martial art were 50 percent less likely to suffer a fall than those who had just done stretching exercises.
Approximately one in three adults in the US UU 65 or older report falling, and 38 percent of these falls cause injuries that can result in emergency room visits, hospitalization, or death.
The team, led by researchers from the School of Nursing at the University of Health and Science in Oregon, says it hopes the findings will lead to more older adults taking this practice to avoid large hospital costs, loss of independence or premature death.
Older adults who practice tai chi are less likely to fall, according to a new study (file image of the tai chi instructor who trains the students)
Developed in China in the 1670s, tai chi was first formed as a self-defense technique, but since then it has become a form of exercise.
Combine slow and fluid movements along with deep breathing to keep the body moving and practice balance.
Tai chi is often recommended for older adults because it is a low impact exercise that exerts little or no stress on the joints or muscles.
There has been some evidence in past research that shows that tai chi can help reduce falls.
A 2012 study from the Oregon Research Institute found that tai chi was the best exercise to treat balance problems in adults with Parkinson's disease.
And a 2012 review of 159 trials found that the martial art was the most successful exercise to reduce the risk of falls.
In addition, a 2014 review also found that tai chi reduces the fear of falling into adults living in retirement communities.
For the current study, the team looked at 670 Oregonians who were 78 years old on average over the 24-week period.
To participate, adults must have fallen once in the last 12 months and have been referred by a doctor at risk of falling or having mobility problems.
Then they were assigned to one of the three exercise groups: tai chi; stretching exercise; or multimodal exercise, which incorporates balance, aerobics and flexibility.
The researchers found that after six months, the tai chi group was 58 percent less likely to experience falls compared to the stretch group and 31 percent less likely compared to the multimodal exercise group.
In total, 733 falls were recorded among the participants. There were 85 falls in the tai chi group compared to 112 in the multimodal exercise group and 127 in the stretch group.
"Not falling is a very complex physiological behavior," co-author Dr. Peter Harmer, professor of exercise and health sciences at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, told HealthDay.
He told the website that regaining balance requires a combination of muscular strength along with feedback from his eyes and ears.
"Tai chi directly challenges the integration of all those things," he said.
Dr. Harmer also added that, while traditional exercises focus on upward and downward movement, tai chi implies a multidirectional movement.
Despite the strong evidence of the benefits of tai chi, Dr. Nathan LeBrasseur, of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic, told HealthDay that older adults can still benefit from staying in traditional exercise.
"It would not discourage people who actively participate in a program of aerobic and strength exercises to throw in the towel and say, 'Now I have to do tai chi,' said Dr. LeBrasseur, who did not work on the study.
"The real challenge is getting people to adopt and stick to an exercise program."