"Most exercise programs focus on exertion or vigorous, fast movements to achieve increased strength and endurance,” said Sandy Matsuda, assistant professor of occupational therapy and one of just a handful of US instructors to become certified in a new form of Tai Chi. "Tai Chi facilitates both strength and endurance through slow and relaxed movements.”

The program is taught to seniors to improve their concentration and balance and to help prevent falls, a common problem in older adults. This simplified version of traditional forms of Tai Chi is appropriate for people with arthritis, lower back pain, knee replacements and Parkinson's disease. Medical research has shown that regular practice of Tai Chi enhances immune function, reduces stress and anxiety, reduces joint pain, and lowers blood pressure.

"A fall to an older person can be devastating,” Matsuda said. "Tai Chi puts an emphasis on balance and being aware of your centre of gravity. A key principal of Tai Chi is being aware of where your body is in the present moment. You actually have more control over your body if you can move mindfully and slowly.”

The greatest benefits come from consistent practice of the Tai Chi Fundamentals program. It is a good way to keep older people active in day-to-day activities and is gentle enough for people recovering from an injury.

"We don't tighten muscles, we relax them,” Matsuda said. "We never go to extremes with movements because it is at the extreme where we are more likely to injure ourselves.”

Matsuda does not recommend learning the program from a video. Tai Chi classes can be physically challenging and people can become discouraged, so it is important to find a teacher whose method of instruction suits each individual.

MEDICA.de; Source: University of Missouri-Columbia