Renowned Tai Chi exponent Michael Gilman explains why it can be useful for elderly adults. He says that it helps strengthen the body and stabilize the blood pressure. The veins and arteries open up as internal tension are alleviated, which also aids circulation. This in turn improves sharpness of vision and hearing. As a consequence, the lymph system gets boosted, reducing the occurrence of common cold, flu, bacterial and other infections. One of the common complaints of the Baby Boomers is joint and bone weakness, which can be reversed through Tai Chi. Bones and the whole skeletal system also get strengthened. In other words,
“Joints are exercised, without the damaging effects of heavy impact. Bones are strengthened because the slow, relaxed movements are done in a semi-squatting stance, and the weight is placed on one leg at a time. Breathing is slow, relaxed, and controlled in Tai Chi practice so the lungs can clear and function at their maximum. The mind is focused at all times on the here and now, eliminating internal chatter and distractions. One becomes present and able to see a situation more clearly. Posture is improved by strengthening and aligning the spine, thus eliminating many back problems.” (Gilman, 2008, p.30)
Another area of proven results is with respect to blood pressure and hypertension. It was previously believed by Western physicians that an apparently gentle exercise like Tai Chi would not be effective in moderating blood pressure. But studies have shown that the efficacy of Tai Chi in lowering blood pressure in older adults is comparable to the effects of moderate aerobic exercise. As per Dr. Deborah R. Young’s presentation to the American Heart Association, a 3 month Tai Chi program for senior citizens resulted in reducing their “average systolic blood pressure by 7 millimeters of mercury, compared with an average of 8.4 millimeters of mercury in the aerobic exercise group.” (Krucoff, 1998, p.52) Comprehensive research is now emerging that practicing Tai Chi regularly can bring enduring benefits for senior adults, “including a reduced risk of falling and a significant improvement in quality of life. Tai chi is now being used in some cardiac rehabilitation programs and by people with diseases such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.” (Krucoff, 1998, p.52) Neurological conditions to which the Baby Boomers are especially vulnerable, including Alzhiemer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis are less likely to occur to regular practitioners.
Finally, one of the major concerns for older adults is their susceptibility for accidental falls. This is due to a weakening of their ability to balance. Tai Chi can help by improving balance and flexibility. Tai Chi is also known to reduce stress levels in practitioners. This fact is particularly salient, as two thirds of all illnesses suffered by Americans are related to stress (and a significant percentage of patients are Baby Boomers). According to a study conducted in 2004 by the magazine Medicine & Health Science in Sports and Exercise, older adults may want to consider taking up Tai Chi, as the results indicate that “Tai Chi training is an effective strategy for preventing falls among people in their late 60s and early 70s. It can help people in this age group sustain and improve their balance control, thus making them less likely to experience debilitating falls. (JOPERD, 2004, p.5)