Every year 1 in 3 adults over 65 years of age falls. Two million of those falls result in a trip to the emergency room. Falls in this age group are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries. Many of the falls result in trauma to the brain, which drastically reduces the ability to walk and/or remain independent.
Why do falls have such a devastating impact in older adults? Many things begin to happen to our bodies and our minds as we age. We tend to lose muscle mass, thus decreasing strength. The water content of our tendons decreases with age, causing the tendons to be stiffer and less able to tolerate stress. The mineral content of the bones also decreases, leaving us with a more fragile bone structure. As bone mass decreases, osteoporosis can develop. This can lead to crush fractures of the vertebrae, and the cause of almost all hip fractures in older men and women. Our body’s cartilage also loses water content and begins to degenerate, leaving less cushion for the bones. In extreme cases this leads to painful friction between the bones, which requires some form of surgery, often a complete joint replacement. Lastly, the integrity of the vestibular system (the sense organs that regulate equilibrium) tends to decline with age, thereby increasing the risk of falls due to impaired balance.
But don’t fret; our future doesn’t have to be so grim. A proactive system that can help navigate the treacherous waters of the aging process will guide us away from these disasters and lead towards smoother sailing through the aging process.
Many of the changes in our musculoskeletal system result more from disuse than from simple aging. Research has shown that even moderate exercise can help maintain muscle strength in older adults. Stronger muscles help to stabilize joints. Participating in weight bearing exercise helps maintain bone density. Movements that take the joints through a gentle range of motion move synovial fluid, thus lubricating the joints and helping to maintain healthy joint function. Movements that require hand- eye coordination help strengthen the vestibular system. For all of these reasons and more, Tai Chi has emerged as one of the premier exercise programs for maintaining strength, balance and flexibility in older adults.
Add the practice of Tai Chi to your list of New Year’s resolutions today, and give yourself the gift of a smooth aging process. Click here to purchase the Tai Chi for Strength and Balance DVD on Amazon.