Tai Chi, the traditional exercise that focuses the mind and the body, may do more for you than just being a workout.

Researchers from Taiwan and China have found that tai chi can lower the risk of falling for seniors and it may improve the health of those who suffer from heart disease.

Doing tai chi can strengthen the extremities of seniors, says a study from Taiwan. This can help prevent seniors from falls.

In the study researchers from Taipei Medical University compared the effectiveness of tai chi to a physical therapy called “lower extremity training,” or LET, which involves leg-strengthening exercises, in reducing falls.

Two groups of participants aged 60 and above were recruited. The participants had all received medical attention for falling. One group was given tai chi classes and the other received LET sessions.

At the end of 6 months it was found that those who practiced tai chi were significantly less likely to experience an injury caused by a fall compared to those who did LET. But that wasn’t all. The benefits of tai chi was seen even after a year later.

Many existing health conditions can contribute to the risk of a fall including arthritis, heart disease, muscle weakness, vision and balance problems, and dementia. Practicing seven days a week at home also gave even greater results.

The team also saw that cognitive function improved more in the tai chi group than in the LET group.

Commenting on how seniors can incorporate tai chi into their lives, Mau-Roung Lin, one of the co-authors of the study, advises that seniors should start by learning tai chi and its movements in a class, but also practise the movements at home at least once a day. The study is published in the Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society.

In China, researchers say that the traditional exercise may help those who are recovering from heart disease, high blood pressure or stroke.

Researcher Chen Pei-Jie and his team from Shanghai University of Sport in China reviewed 35 studies, which looked at 2,249 participants in total from 10 different countries.

The data showed that for individuals with cardiovascular disease, practising traditional Chinese exercise such as Tai chi, Baduanjin and Qigong helped to reduce systolic blood pressure – which measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle is contracting – by more than 9.12mm Hg on average.

They also found improvements in diastolic blood pressure – which measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle is resting – was reduced by more than 5mm Hg on average.

The team believes that the results of their meta-analysis on blood pressure suggest that traditional Chinese exercise could help to lower the risk of stroke by up to 41%, and coronary heart disease by up to 22%.

The results also showed a small but statistically significant reduction in the levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides – a type of fat found in the blood that can increase the risk of heart disease.

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