Older adults who perform tai chi are significantly less likely to have injury-causing falls compared with peers who perform lower extremity training, and the effects are long-lasting, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

In their study, researchers assigned 368 people who were aged at least 60 years and had received medical attention for a fall to one of two groups. The first group received hour-long, instructor-led tai chi classes every week for 24 weeks. The second group received individual, hour-long lower extremity training sessions conducted by physical therapists for 24 weeks. Those sessions included stretching, muscle strengthening and balance training.

The researchers asked all study participants to complete at least 80% of their sessions and also to practice either the tai chi or the lower extremity training (depending on which group they were assigned to) every day during the six- month program and the 12-month follow-up. During the course of the study, all participants kept diaries and recorded any falls they had, and they shared their diaries with the researchers each month.

After six months of training, members of the tai chi group were significantly less likely to experience an injury-causing fall than were members of the other group. One year after taking the training, those who took tai chi were about 50% less likely to experience an injury-causing fall compared with people in the other group.

Study co-author Mau-Roung Lin, Ph.D., professor and director of the Institute of Injury Prevention and Control at Taipei Medical University in Taiwan, suggests that older adults learn tai chi in a class and practice at least once a day.