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Tai Chi program prevents falls

Posted: August 4, 2013 - 12:00am

Falls are the single greatest risk to older Alaskans’ health, independence, and quality of life. In Alaska, an estimated one-third of seniors over the age of 65 and half of those over the age of 80 will fall each year. Falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, and injury deaths among older adults. Hip fractures are the leading fall-related injury that results in hospitalization and loss of independence.

Although people are especially concerned about falling in winter conditions or walking on uneven ground, it is wise to always be careful, as most falls actually occur in one’s own home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends four things an individual can do to reduce his or her chances of falling: 1) Begin a regular exercise program; 2) Have your health care provider review your medicines; 3) Have your vision checked; 4) Make your home safer. Free informational brochures on how to prevent falls are available online at www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls.

The Tai Chi system of exercise has been shown to prevent falls in older adults. Tai Chi began as a Chinese martial art and evolved into a series of fluid movements that relax and stimulate the body and mind. Research suggests that Tai Chi may offer many health benefits that include reduced stress, anxiety and depression; improved flexibility, strength, balance and coordination that lead to fewer falls; improved sleep; reduced bone loss; lower blood pressure; better cardiovascular fitness; relief of chronic pain and stiffness; and higher immunity to shingles. Tai Chi can help with conditions of osteoporosis, fibromyalgia symptoms, osteoarthritis, and arthritis. Tai Chi helps improve awareness, calmness and one’s overall sense of well being.

Tai Chi (pronounced tie-chee) is based on the philosophy that vital energy flows throughout the body and regulates a person’s physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental balance. A person doing Tai Chi progresses slowly and gracefully through a series of movements, learning to breathe fully and to focus one’s mind. Anyone can learn and benefit from Tai Chi; it is very safe and no special clothing or equipment is needed.

Beginning Monday, Aug. 19, free Tai Chi classes will be available in Juneau for anyone age 60 or older, thanks to a grant from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. The classes will be lead by an instructor who is certified to teach the form of Tai Chi endorsed by the Arthritis Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control. There are a limited number of spaces available in the class, so those who are interested should call Carol Comolli, Manager of the Juneau Senior Center, at 463-6175 to register. Students will be registered for the class on a first come, first served basis.

During the ten-week series, classes will take place every Monday and Thursday morning at 10 a.m. at Gruening Park, located at 1800 Northwood Drive in Lemon Creek. Classes will be taught by Glen Ray, a local Tai Chi instructor certified through the Tai Chi for Health Institute. The first week, Ray will assist each student in setting personal health goals, such as improving balance, coordination and body awareness — the key elements to preventing falls.

Falls are not an inevitable part of life, even as one gets older. Taking action to prevent falls is powerful. In turn, getting rid of the fear of falling can help people stay active, maintain their physical health, and prevent future falls.

• Marianne Mills, M.S.W., is the Program Director of Southeast Senior Services (SESS) which offers a variety of home and community-based services for older Alaskans throughout Southeast Alaska. SESS is a program division of Catholic Community Service which assists all persons regardless of their faith.

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