As we prepare for Falls Prevention Awareness Day this Wednesday and Active Aging Week next week, new evidence arises of the health benefits of Tai Chi for older adults.

In her guest column also appearing today, Ellen Schneider of the National Council on Aging notes that the ancient Chinese exercise is the focus of an evidence-based falls prevention program. And Cindy Harrigan of Covenant Village of Cromwell in Connecticut recently shared her community’s positive experience with offering a Tai Chi program. “Residents began offering spontaneous testimony about feeling better, sleeping more soundly, improved postures and having more energy while also feeling more relaxed,” she wrote.

And now a pooled analysis of available evidence, published online Sept. 17 by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, finds that Tai Chi improves physical capacity among older adults with breast cancer, heart failure, osteoarthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The researchers sought to learn whether the exercise’s gentle movements and characteristics of mindfulness, relaxation and breath control relieved symptoms and improved physical capacity and quality of life for people with the four conditions. They examined databases for relevant studies and ultimately analyzed 21 studies.

In those studies, the average age of participants was mid 50s to early 70s. Training programs typically lasted 12 weeks long, with one-hour sessions being offered two or three times a week.

Tai Chi improved participants’ performance on the six-minute walking test; muscle strength as measured by bending and stretching the knees; mobility as measured by the Timed Up and Go, or TUG, test; and quality of life. It also lessened pain and stiffness and improved sit-to-stand times in those with osteoarthritis, and it lessened breathlessness for those with COPD.

The researchers can’t draw conclusions about cause and effect due to the observational nature of the study, but they note that their findings mirror those of previous research and provide a basis for more research into the benefits of Tai Chi and other forms of exercise.

Do you offer Tai Chi in your community? If so, how has it been received by residents? Email me at

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight’s Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.