Got balance?

Carol Emerson

How’s your balance these days? It is actually pretty common for us to experience a decline in our balance as we age. According to The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, 25-35% of people 65 and older fall once or more each year! At age 85, that risk increases to 51%. The good news is, keeping lower body strength, ankle flexibility, and sensory alertness in working order can mitigate this. Many falls can be prevented. Fortunately, tai chi is an exercise that addresses all three. Sadly, fear of falling can keep people from staying active, but it is the most important thing we can do to prevent falls.

The reason tai chi is so good is that it is a multifaceted exercise—you practice slowly and in a bent-knee posture, building leg, hip, and ankle strength and flexibility. The upper body moves independent from the lower body, often in twisting and moving in two directions simultaneously so the brain needs to increase spatial awareness to remain strong and steady as you move. And, the mental focus necessary to remember the movement sequence helps create new neural pathways and improved cognition. It’s perfect.

Another interesting fact is that practicing tai chi can improve tactile ability and sensitivity to touch in the fingertips. Dr. Cathy Kerr of the Harvard Medical School did a study comparing people who did tai chi and those that did not. She found that (most notably) older people developed sensitivity comparable to blind people who read Braille. In the early ’70s when I was doing a ton of tai chi, I found my manual dexterity increased significantly. If I happened to drop the soap while showering, I was almost always able to catch it in mid-air!

There is a new beginning tai chi class each week in SaddleBrooke. No experience is necessary and it is fairly easy to learn. You can notice improvements in your balance within one or two months of weekly practice. Like most things, you get the most benefit from dedication and practice. For more information call Ken Emerson 520-784-1475 or Carol Emerson 520-373-3778.

Beginning tai chi classes occur on Tuesdays at 9:05 a.m. to 10:05 a.m. at SaddleBrooke One fitness center. The cost is $10.