Thursday, August 16, 2018

Try Tai Chi for Balance and Fall Prevention

Villa Gardens Residents Practice Tai Chi
By Debbie L. Miller

Patricia Bethke Bing, 75, a retired community organizer in Knoxville, Tenn., has been practicing Tai chi for approximately 20 years. She practices three days a week, for 40 minutes, with a group of people around her age.

“I decided to do Tai chi for the health benefits, both mental and physical. I have no specific health issues, but I was looking to keep my good health and improve my leg strength,” said Bing. “Tai chi practice helps me to maintain my good balance, strength, and flexibility.”

Tai chi, also known as Tai chi chuan, is a Chinese martial art performed with slow, controlled postures and movements. Enthusiasts practice it for defense or health, or both.

Tai Chi Is Helpful for Balance

Recently, several studies have addressed the benefits of Tai chi for older adults. A 2014 analysis of research on Tai chi and balance, “Improvement of balance control and flexibility in the elderly Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) practitioners” in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics concluded that “TCC practice was beneficial to improve the balance control ability and flexibility of older adults, which may be the reason for preventing falls.”

Peter M. Wayne, associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, and director of research at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, has been studying the health effects of Tai chi for 18 years and practicing it for 40.


“Across multiple studies, Tai chi appears to reduce risk of falling by 20 to 45 percent and is considered one of the best exercises available for ambulatory older adults with balance concerns,” Wayne explained.

Falling: A Serious Risk for Older Adults

Falls are the leading cause of accidental death among people age 65 and older. “In an effort to find ways to prevent falls among older adults, researchers have been investigating specific exercises, like Tai chi, that target both the physical and cognitive fundamentals of mobility,” said Brad Manor, director of Mobility and Brain Function Lab at the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew Senior Life and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.


Credit: Michael Miller
“We and others have shown that regular Tai chi practice aids the muscular system, movement coordination, balance, and even higher-level cognitive skills such as complex reaction time and problem solving,” Manor said, “which together enable us to move throughout our environment and complete our daily activities safely without falling.”

Many factors work together to prevent falling, including balance and stability. “Unfortunately, even falls that don’t result in injury or death often have a very real and significant negative impact on quality of life,” Manor said. The result? A cycle of fear and risk of future falls. “These falls often lead to fear of falling, reduced physical activity, depression and lack of social engagement — all of which, in turn, increase the risk of suffering another fall.”

Biomechanics (how we measure and control our movement, how it changes with age and how movement relates to balance) is an important factor in the balance/fall equation.

“Our balance control system is incredibly complex and, with aging, there is a decline in sensory and muscle function,” Manor said. Tai chi helps with the ability to maintain balance, especially when we’re doing more than one thing at the same time (dual tasking), a skill which also decreases as we age.

Research Confirms the Benefits of Tai Chi

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the government’s National Institutes of Health, summarized the benefits of Tai chi and concluded that “Practicing tai chi may help to improve balance and stability in older people.”

At Beacon Hill, a residential living community in Lombard, Ill., one of the residents leads an hour-long Tai chi class two days a week. “During the class, residents, who are between 62 and 93 years of age, sit or stand, depending on what feels most comfortable,” said Marc H. Raben, director of lifestyle at Beacon Hill.

Tai chi’s benefits go beyond the physical. “It is highly spiritual and also helps with focusing and calming the mind, as well as with balance,” Raben added. Several studies have shown tai chi to be helpful for those suffering from depression, hypertension, arthritis and fibromyalgia.

“Tai chi helps me mentally, as one must concentrate on the moves and the sequence in order to get the full benefit,” Bing explained. “I find the practice calming and centering, and it helps me emotionally. Tai chi is a pause from daily stresses and a safe comfortable place to be quiet.”


© Next Avenue - 2018. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Can age be “just a number?” I’d say no.

by Ashton Applewhite, reposted with permission from ThisChairRocks 
 

The phrase has always made me uneasy, partly because it’s usually accompanied by a picture of an older person doing something considered “age-inappropriate,” like wearing a wacky outfit or doing something acrobatic. The bigger issue is that it trivializes something important. Age is indeed “only a number,” as long as that number reflects how many times we’ve circled the sun. Age is real. Age differences can’t be wished away, nor should they be.

Needless to say, it’s complicated, just like the discourse around telling people how old you are. It’s important to claim your age, and just as important to push back: to ask what difference the number makes in the questioner’s mind, and why? The longer we live, after all, the more different from one another we become. That makes chronological age an ever-less-reliable indicator of what a person is capable of or interested in, so it makes a certain sense to decline to identify with it. That’s one reason so many octogenarians maintain, truthfully, that they still feel fifty, forty, or even thirty inside—that “age is just a number.”

The other reason they feel that way is internalized ageism: the belief that younger = better and that their older selves have less value than their younger selves. That’s why fudging or disavowing our age is so problematic. It gives the number more power than it deserves. It distances us from our peers. And it reinforces ageist thinking, by implying that our years are something to be ashamed rather than proud of, and suggesting that capacities might erode or relationships founder if the number came to light.

People can be far apart in years and have plenty in common, as we realize the minute we bust out of age silos. That’s why I loved an article by Gina Pell called
Meet the Perennials—her witty proposal for what those of us who refuse to be constrained by generational moats start calling ourselves. “It’s time we chose our own category based on shared values and passions and break out of the faux constructs behind an age-based system of classification,” she writes. “We are ever-blooming, relevant people of all ages who live in the present time, know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology, and have friends of all ages.” My people!

So what’s not to like? The article’s tired tagline: “age ain’t nothing but a number.” (This may well have been an editor’s handiwork, not Pell’s.) It’s the age-based version of “post-racial.” It’s happy talk, papering over the very real differences between being younger and older. It’s important to acknowledge those differences because it’s part of what makes relationships authentic. Because the differences are interesting. Because the exchange of skills and stories across generations is the natural order of things.

Those differences aren’t what stand between us and age equity. The obstacle is ageism—the age segregation that cuts us off from most of humanity and the prejudice that justifies it. As Pell writes, “Tolerance feels unattainable when there are hard lines drawn between decades, and terms like Boomers, GenX, and GenY keep us separate and at odds.”

 If we’re going to dismantle ageism, we’re going to have to collaborate across those artificial “generation gaps.” Gerontologist Jenny Sasser, whose
Gero-punk Manifesto ought to be required reading for all Perennials, describes this beautifully:

The revolution around dismantling ageism can’t happen unless we can create cross-generational coalitions, which can’t happen if we can’t meet each other in the middle across age difference and become friends. Not despite age differences, but across them—because we are both similar and different, because we are all traveling through the life course at the same time but are at different phases of the journey. We need to ask better questions about when age and generation differences matter, and when they don’t. And help each other develop a keener critical capacity for seeing through the socially constructed ideas and structures that keep us in conflict rather than in cooperation. 

Hold this in our heads and it’s far easier to reject young vs. old ways of thinking, to make friends of all ages, and to find common cause. Pitting the generations against each other is one of the major tactics used by the wealthy and powerful to divide those who might otherwise unite against them in pursuit of a fairer world for all. It’s like pitting groups of low-wage workers against each other, or the interests of stay-at-home moms against women in the paid workforce. The underlying issue is a living wage for all, and redress requires collective action. When issues are instead framed as zero-sum—more for “them” means less for “us”—it’s harder to see that the public good is at stake and the issue affects everyone. The objective, in the words of historian David Hackett Fischer, is to create a world “in which the deep eternal differences between age and youth are recognized and respected without being organized into a system of social inequality.” That social order has to work for all ages, and we Perennials and Gero-punks need to roll up our sleeves and help shape it.


Author and activist Ashton Applewhite is the author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism. In 2016, she joined PBS site Next Avenue’s annual list of 50 Influencers in Aging as their Influencer of the Year. She has been recognized by the New York Times, National Public Radio, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism. Ashton blogs at This Chair Rocks and is the voice of Yo, Is This Ageist? She has written for Harper’s, Playboy, the New York Times, and many other publications, and speaks widely, at venues that have ranged from universities and community centers to the TED mainstage and the United Nations. Ageism is emerging as a pressing human rights and social justice issue, and Ashton has become a leading spokesperson for a movement to mobilize against it.