Tai Chi can help seniors prevent falls

November 19, 2001 11:00 pm
A band of about eight seniors meets at Community Connection twice each week to practice the 400-year-old Chinese discipline Tai Chi. Instructor Curtis Adkins, foreground, says that studies indicate that the balance students learn as they learn the arts movements prevents some of the falls that fracture hips among the senior population.  (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).
A band of about eight seniors meets at Community Connection twice each week to practice the 400-year-old Chinese discipline Tai Chi. Instructor Curtis Adkins, foreground, says that studies indicate that the balance students learn as they learn the arts movements prevents some of the falls that fracture hips among the senior population. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

If it worked as a form of self-defense for 17th century Chinese monks, Baker City seniors figure, it just might work for them.

For the past several weeks, a group of about eight seniors under the gentle tutoring of Curtis Adkins has turned a meeting room at Community Connection into a makeshift Tai Chi studio. Twice a week, the group of eager students all women form a circle and practice the ancient art that emphasizes breathing and movement.

Some of the students admit to a little soreness at the end of the hour-long class, but Tai Chi is a new-found love they wont easily let go of.

I hate to miss even once, offers one student, and the others offer rapid-fire responses about why they, too, plan to keep coming.

Were using our brains what little we have left, one says with a smile.

Its relaxing, and it teaches us good balance, says another.

Its as much a mental discipline as anything else, opines a fourth.

It makes us more limber, says yet another.

Whatever their reason for coming, theres good science behind the health benefits of Tai Chi, now an art form but originally developed as a method of self-defense, Adkins said.

A 1996 study done by the Emory University School of Medicine for the National Institute on Aging found that older people taking part in a 15-week Tai Chi program reduced their risk of falling by nearly 50 percent.

The NIA estimates that each year falls are responsible for more than $12 billion worth of medical care in the U.S.; the costs due to physical frailty are much higher.

A Johns Hopkins University study suggests that Tai Chi may be just as effective as more conventional exercise in helping to lower blood pressure. After 12 weeks, Tai Chi participants between the ages of 60 and 80 who had been sedentary and obese had lowered their blood pressure almost as much as a comparable group that walked briskly and did low-impact aerobics.

The news on Tai Chi is a reminder that relatively low tech approaches should not be overlooked in the search for ways to prevent disability and maintain physical performance in late life, the NIA said. People can do this at home and with friends once they have had the proper training.

Thats where Adkins comes in. He moved to Baker City from San Diego in April after retiring from a computer software company. A Tai Chi practitioner since 1959, he has studied the art under master teachers in locales ranging from China to the East Coast of the United States.

The form of Tai Chi he adheres to has 24 postures with more than 100 movements with exotic names like Polish the Sky and Grasp Sparrows Tail. Adkins hopes to impart 10 postures with their associated movements to his new students.

While practicing Grasp Sparrows Tail, last week, seven students Millie Strommer, Barbara Prowell, Ludy Busciglio, Emily Stalder, Jeannette LeGrande, Jewell Boucher and Wanda Raffety strike a pose reminiscent of a football running back looking for a hole to run through.

But they stand still, feet spread for balance, moving their arms in a graceful way until theyve completed the movement several times.

You might wobble a bit, and thats OK, Adkins tells his students. Keep up your breathing, low and slow. Eventually, he says, smiling, Well work our way up to those kicks youve seen.

That vision cracks up the class.

But for now, the students are content to learn exercises they can do secretly for example, standing in line at the grocery store.

Our goal is good circulation, good posture, and good breathing, Adkins says after class. The students all seem really enthused.

Adkins is so pleased with the response that hes making an instructional video which he hopes to begin distributing in January. For more information on Tai Chi for seniors, call him at 523-5100, or Community Connection at 523-6591.