Tai chi practitioner in front of sunset

T’ai chi, the ancient Chinese philosophy centering on the union of the yin (passive) and yang (active) often practiced today as a yoga-like exercise, has been known to be a gentle way to fight stress. A meta analysis culled from 10 randomized studies suggests that it also reduces fall-related injuries in at-risk and older adults.

“T’ai chi practice may reduce the rate of falls and injury-related falls over the short term (less than 12 months) by approximately 43 percent and 50 percent, respectively,” write Spanish researchers in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. “T’ai chi practice may not influence time to first fall in these populations,” it adds, noting that more studies are necessary given the “low quality of evidence.”

Studies show that adults 45 and older with arthritis were likelier to fall and to sustain injuries that limited their regular activities for at least a day or to visit a doctor than adults without arthritis. And according to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of injuries — both fatal and non-fatal — for older Americans and “threaten seniors’ safety and independence and generate enormous economic and personal costs.”

[Read about exercise for rheumatoid arthritis.]

But t’ai chi’s protective impact diminishes over time. “The risk reduction dropped to 13 percent for falls and to 28 percent for injurious falls with follow-up of a year or greater, the researchers found,” notes Medscape.

A 2015 Southern Medical Journal analysis found that 17.6 percent of older adults had reported between one and five falls — 6 percent serious falls — in the prior three months, Medscape notes. “T’ai chi, which focuses on whole body coordination and flexibility, improves balance control in older adults, and a protective role against falls has been suggested,” it adds.

In the meta-analysis, t’ai chi interventions ranged from 12 to 26 weeks, and hour-long sessions were held once to thrice each week. Patients were aged 56 to 98.

“In today’s world of high-intensity fitness fads, one might wonder whether tai chi — characterized by its slow, deliberate movements — is a worthwhile workout,” notes TIME magazine, reporting on the meta analysis. “But the ancient Chinese practice has been linked to myriad health benefits, from improved immunity to lower blood pressure to reduced inflammation.”

[Learn about natural remedies for arthritis.]

“This analysis provides good evidence that t’ai chi is a very effective way to prevent falls,” Michael Wasserman, a Los Angeles geriatrician told Consumer Reports. “That’s a benefit that you may not get from other types of activities — even strength training.” (The article includes tips at the end for those who would like to start taking t’ai chi.)

Members of the CreakyJoints community shared their experiences with t’ai chi on Facebook.

Michelle Reed, 51, who has adult onset Still’s disease — a rare disease which attacks organs, joints, muscles, and tendons — reports that she loves t’ai chi, which she has practiced for nearly four years and which helps keep her muscles stretched out.

“I had done tae kwon do in the past, but as I aged I needed something that was not high impact on my knees and ankles,” she says. “I have seen some practice sitting in a chair and do just the arm movements and still benefit from it.”

T’ai chi, she says, involves very low-impact and slow movements, which also becomes a form of meditation. “I have learned that if I practice the stretching that we do before class at home in the mornings, it helps a great deal,” she adds. “I have lots of muscle spasms due to the disease, and this helps me tremendously in keeping those under control without medication.”

Some days, she doesn’t feel like going to t’ai chi. “But you know you should, because you always feel better after you are done,” she says.