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More than just going through the motions

Tai chi students seize moment, improve health

Created date

September 22nd, 2009

Claude Roberts turned to tai chi to maintain his good health. [caption id="attachment_3097" align="alignright" width="280" caption="The tai chi group at Eagle s Trace demonstrates a pose typical of the fluid movements they practice. (Photo by DyAnne Wilson)"][/caption] I started practicing tai chi about three years ago, after I moved to Eagle s Trace, says Roberts. I m 82 and pretty agile, but now I can spin around and stick one leg up in the air and I couldn t do that before. Roberts says one of the reasons he s stuck with it is because it s a fun way to exercise. It s peaceful and not too difficult to learn, he says. In fact, I think one of the reasons it s so beneficial is that you enjoy what you re doing. Originally developed in China as a form of self-defense, tai chi has existed for some 2,000 years. Students use various slow movements to gently stretch all the joints in the body. Roberts is one of 50 men and women at Eagle s Trace who take free tai chi classes taught by Wellness Manager Shirley Woods.

Age-old solution, modern problems

In tai chi, we move what s called the life s force, or life energy. We keep that energy moving to help prevent illness, says Woods, who studied the art through a program with the Arthritis Foundation designed by tai chi expert Dr. Paul Lam. It has been encouraging to hear from participants that they ve experienced improved balance and other health benefits in a short period of time, she says. Woods has been teaching tai chi at Eagle s Trace for two and a half years. The practice has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; increase flexibility and muscle strength; improve sleep quality; and relieve chronic pain. Researchers have also reported that stroke patients who practice tai chi may improve their balance, reducing the risk of falls. Carroll Hill was diagnosed with neuropathy years ago and has had trouble with his Achilles tendon in the past. Since taking Woods class for nearly seven months, Hill says tai chi has helped him get back on his feet. It s improved my balance and my ability to walk long distances, he says. It seems like the more I do it, the more it helps me. Hill is currently taking seven 30-minute classes a week. I kind of worked my way up to it, he says. I started in the fitness center using the exercise equipment. That led to the pool, where I met a few people who were taking tai chi. The more I learned about it, the more interested I became. My daughter also had a big influence on me. She has been doing tai chi practically her whole life. The more people I talked to, the more enthused I became about it. So I thought I would give it a try. Jan Willson has practiced yoga for the last 20 years but only recently tried tai chi after moving to Eagle s Trace in early 2008. She takes classes three times a week. I like to be active, and I ve really experienced some positive health benefits from tai chi, says Willson. I m much more flexible. It has improved my balance, and of course, the fellowship is great too!