Increasingly Tai Chi is being promoted for its health benefits, so it should come as no surprise that Tai Chi has become the focus of several Falls Prevention Program Strategies being implemented at present in Victoria. The West Gippsland Healthcare Group, in the Central Gippsland region of Victoria, is one such organisation which following, an extensive review of existing studies into effective exercise regimens, adopted a Tai Chi based exercise system for its Falls Prevention Program promotion.
Based on a US study by Wolf, Coogler and Tingsen Xu (1996) where 215 participants in the 70 + age bracket, over a 15 week period were assigned to 3 different exercise protocols, it was demonstrated that a very significant reduction in the rate of falls (> 20% ) occurred in the Tai Chi group.
The Tai Chi format selected for the trial was a modified Yang style version consisting of 10 movements which progress in degree of difficulty and which specifically address the structural / functional changes that generally occur with age in Western society.
Contrasting with the normal approach to teaching Tai Chi as a progressive sequence of forms, the Tingsen Xu method is to practise each form as a repetitive drill, alternating between left and right sides and with an opening and closing form for each individual set.
This of course reduces the memory stress often experienced with Tai Chi sequences and allows for swifter accomplishment of form techniques which are the prime motivators for improvements in posture and gait and, thus, balance.
The Tai Chi For Balance Falls Prevention Program, contrary to the US trial study is aimed at the over 50 years population in an attempt to encourage this ‘younger’ group to take stock, and to do something to delay the almost inevitable weakness associated with lack of use and the advancement of years.
The participants are given a suitable introduction to Tai Chi principles as well the stimulation of learning something new and challenging and hence the physical improvements are somewhat secondary as an emphasis and seem to happen ‘magically’ whilst the focus is upon the challenge of coordination!
The Tai Chi for Balance Program is provided by Government funding under the joint auspices of Local Councils, Regional Hospitals and Neighbourhood Centres, and has been enthusiastically welcomed and supported by the local communities involved. It currently engages three experienced instructors working in nine localities and is well attended. Tai Chi is yet again proving its worth as a long- term healthful endeavour.