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Balance Training Better Than Tai Chi at Improving Mobility in Older Adults

Physicians and physical therapists in recent years have explored whether tai chi, balance programs and fitness routines can help decrease the likelihood that older adults// will fall and injure themselves. Many of these programs have shown promise, but their relative value is still open to debate.

Now, a study from researchers at the University of Michigan Health System and the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System suggests that a program focusing on increasing step length and speed is more effective at improving mobility and balance than tai chi. While tai chi – a Chinese martial art form consisting of slow, rotational movements and weight-shifting – offers many benefits, the researchers say, they’re not as great as those produced by a balance-training program.

“Our results indicate that in older adults with at least mild balance impairment, Combined Balance and Stepping Training (CBST) results in modestly greater improvement in balance, stepping and functional mobility compared to tai chi training,” says senior author Neil B. Alexander, M.D., professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, at the U-M Health System, and acting director of the Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

“What this tells us is that if you want to improve your ability to balance and walk, try a program that focuses on improving balance while moving and the ability to step quickly and further,” he says of the study, which appears in the new edition of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. “Data from this study can help determine which balance training program may be most optimal to improve balance and eventually reduce falls. Among older adults, falls are becoming an increasing problem, so it is important that we find ways to help prevent them in the first place.”

This is the first comparison of two balance training programs in which each type of pr
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