What Are the Benefits of Tai Chi?

Tai chi chuan, a gentle form of martial arts combining deep, diaphragmatic breathing and flowing, dancelike poses, can be a remarkably potent workout for people of many ages. In various recent studies and reviews, tai chi has been found to improve practitioners’ balance, leg strength, cardiovascular endurance, pulse rate, muscular flexibility, immune system response, sleep habits, happiness, sense of self-worth, and ability to concentrate and multitask during cognitive tests.

In one especially impressive study from last year, the brains of older people who had been practicing tai chi for several years were compared with the brains of age-matched sedentary adults. The tai chi participants showed greater connectivity and other measures of health in portions of the brain known to be involved in decision-making and attention than the volunteers who had never done tai chi.

Overall, tai chi “can improve both physical and psychosocial health,” said Dr. Chenchen Wang, the director of the Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

Scientists haven’t yet determined, though, whether tai chi is substantially better for you than other types of light-to-moderate exercise, such as walking, yoga or weight training, said Fuzhong Li, a principal investigator at the Oregon Research Institute, who has studied tai chi. Comparative effectiveness studies pitting the activities against one another have not been done.

But tai chi is definitely better than no or very light activity. “Our work does suggest that tai ji chuan”— another form of the activity’s name — “produces far better outcomes compared to low-impact activities such as stretching,” Dr. Li said.

Many community centers and Y.M.C.A.’s nationwide offer low-cost classes, Dr. Li said. You can find a program near you by visiting the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association’s website atamericantaichi.net.

Gretchen Reynolds

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Falls and Older Adults

Risk Increases With Age

Many people have a friend or relative who has fallen. The person may have slipped while walking or felt dizzy when standing up from a chair and fallen. Maybe you’ve fallen yourself.

If you or an older person you know has fallen, you’re not alone. More than one in three people age 65 years or older falls each year. The risk of falling — and fall-related problems — rises with age.

Falls Lead to Fractures, Trauma

Each year, more than 1.6 million older U.S. adults go to emergency departments for fall-related injuries. Among older adults, falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence, and injury deaths.

Fractures caused by falls can lead to hospital stays and disability. Most often, fall-related fractures are in the person’s hip, pelvis, spine, arm, hand, or ankle.

Hip fractures are one of the most serious types of fall injury. They are a leading cause of injury and loss of independence, among older adults. Most healthy, independent older adults who are hospitalized for a broken hip are able to return home or live on their own after treatment and rehabilitation. Most of those who cannot return to independent living after such injuries had physical or mental disabilities before the fracture. Many of them will need long-term care.

Fear of Falling

Many older adults are afraid of falling. This fear becomes more common as people age, even among those who haven’t fallen. It may lead older people to avoid activities such as walking, shopping, or taking part in social activities.

If you’re worried about falling, talk with your doctor or another health care provider. Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist. Physical therapy can help you improve your balance and walking and help build your walking confidence. Getting rid of your fear of falling can help you to stay active, maintain your physical health, and prevent future falls.

Tell Your Doctor If You Fall

If you fall, be sure to discuss the fall with your doctor, even if you aren’t hurt. Many underlying causes of falls can be treated or corrected. For example, falls can be a sign of a new medical problem that needs attention, such as diabetes or changes in blood pressure, particularly drops in blood pressure on standing up. They can also be a sign of problems with your medications or eyesight that can be corrected. After a fall, your doctor may suggest changes in your medication or your eyewear prescription. He or she may also suggest physical therapy, use of a walking aid, or other steps to help prevent future falls. These steps can also make you more confident in your abilities.

Ways to Prevent Falls

Exercise to improve your balance and strengthen your muscles helps to prevent falls. Not wearing bifocal or multifocal glasses when you walk, especially on stairs, will make you less likely to fall. You can also make your home safer by removing loose rugs, adding handrails to stairs and hallways, and making sure you have adequate lighting in dark areas.

Falls are not an inevitable part of life, even as a person gets older. You can take action to prevent falls. Your doctor or other health care providers can help you decide what changes will help.

http://nihseniorhealth.gov/falls/aboutfalls/01.html

Knee Pain? Eat to feel better…

Besides knee pain, we face daily aches and pains that require more than just a short rest or a nap. Below we have listed AARP’s recommendations for 7 foods that can help battle off those daily ailments.

 

Take the first step with…Ginger.

Long used as a digestive aid, ginger is also an effective painkiller. Almost two-thirds of patients with chronic knee pain reported less soreness upon standing after taking a ginger extract, according to a six-week study from the University of Miami. Those who consumed ginger also reported less pain after walking 50 feet than those taking a placebo — and they needed less pain medication. And new research suggests ginger may also help tackle post-workout pain.

“Ginger relieves pain by blocking an enzyme that’s a key component of the inflammatory process,” says investigator Christopher D. Black, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia. Two to three teaspoons a day should do the trick. “That’s not an overwhelming amount,” he says. “You could easily add that to a stir-fry or soup.” Other options include ginger tea and beverages made with fresh ginger.

…Soy

Want to cut your osteoarthritis knee pain by 30 percent or more? Add some soy to your diet. An Oklahoma State University study found that consuming 40 grams of soy protein daily for three months slashed patients’ use of pain medication in half. The secret lies in soy’s isoflavones — plant hormones with anti-inflammatory properties, says main study author Bahram H. Arjmandi, Ph.D., R.D., now professor of nutrition, food, and exercise sciences at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Tofu, soy milk, burgers, edamame: All are good options. But be patient. “It takes two or three weeks for it to take effect,” Arjmandi says.

…Turmeric

A recent Thai study found that the spice common in many Indian foods fights the pain of rheumatoid arthritis as effectively as ibuprofen. Turmeric also seems to inhibit the destruction of joints from arthritis, according to National Institutes of Health – supported research on rats at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Turmeric inhibits a protein called NF-kB; when turned on, this protein activates the body’s inflammatory response, leading to achy joints. Investigator Janet L. Funk, M.D., and others are still working out the optimal dose, but “using turmeric as a spice in cooking is safe,” she says.

…Cherries

High amounts of antioxidants called anthocyanins are the key to cherries’ pain-fighting power. In a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, participants who ate 45 Bing cherries a day for 28 days reduced their inflammation levels significantly. And a Johns Hopkins study of rats given cherry anthocyanins hinted that anthocyanins might also protect against arthritis pain. Unpublished preliminary data from the Baylor Research Institute in Dallas further showed that a tart-cherry pill reduced pain and improved function in more than 50 percent of osteoarthritis patients over an eight-week period. A cherry-juice drink likewise reduced symptoms of muscle damage among exercising men in a University of Vermont study: Their pain scores dropped significantly compared with the scores of those who did not drink the juice. Pain-calming anthocyanins are also found in blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

…Coffee/Caffeine

Ever wonder why so many over-the-counter cold and headache medicines contain caffeine? Studies show it enhances the effects of common painkillers such as aspirin and acetaminophen. But recent data suggest caffeine has pain-lowering powers of its own — at least when it comes to the pain associated with exercise. University of Georgia researchers showed that moderate doses of caffeine — equivalent to two cups of joe — reduced post-workout pain by almost 50 percent.

And a caffeine buzz may boost your workout. Caffeine seems to raise your pain threshold, making it easier to keep exercising or work out harder than you would have otherwise. Just don’t overdo it. “If you are going to work out, get a cup of coffee on the way,” Black says. “There’s good evidence it makes your muscles feel better

…Fish

The omega-3 fatty acids in fish that help keep your ticker in top shape may also tame the pain or inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis, migraines, and some autoimmune diseases, including Crohn’s disease. Even chronic neck- and back-pain patients can benefit: In an open trial at the University of Pittsburgh, 60 percent of respondents experienced some relief after taking fish oil for three months, and almost as many dropped their pain drugs altogether. “We found we could substitute fish oil in place of drugs — an anti-inflammatory with no side effects in place of pharmaceuticals with side effects,” says Joseph C. Maroon, M.D., clinical professor in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the study’s coauthor.

Aim for two to four meals a week of fatty fish such as salmon, Atlantic mackerel, sardines, or trout — all top omega-3 sources. Halibut, light tuna, snapper, and striped bass are good, too. Not a fan of the fin? Consider a daily supplement containing both EPA and DHA — the key omega-3 fats — suggests Maroon. If you are taking a blood thinner, check with your doctor first; omega-3s may increase that drug’s effects

…Red Grapes

This deeply hued fruit contains resveratrol, a powerful compound that blocks the enzymes that contribute to tissue degeneration. The evidence: In lab experiments at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, resveratrol protected against the kind of cartilage damage that causes back pain.

Although the research is preliminary, it can’t hurt to fill up on foods rich in resveratrol, including blueberries and cranberries, which contain other powerful antioxidants as well. Or have a glass of wine. “Resveratrol in red wine is far more easily absorbed due to the form it is in,” says researcher Xin Li, M.D., Ph.D., a biochemistry instructor at Rush.