It’s a fact of life that the older you get, the greater the chances that you’ll trip, stumble, lose your balance, miss a step or do something else that will cause you to fall. Of course, exercising can keep you fit so that taking a tumble is less likely. But if you really want to stay strong and steady—and on your feet—there’s one kind of exercise that’s best.

While plenty of research shows that exercise is effective at preventing falls among seniors, there is not much scientific consensus as to what kind of exercise is the safest and most effective. So researchers at Oregon Research Institute compared the fall-preventive effects of different kinds of exercise in 670 adults age 70 and older who had had a fall during the previous year or were at increased risk for falling because of impaired mobility.

The participants were randomly assigned to one of three exercise programs—stretching (the control)…a multimodal program of aerobic, strength and flexibility exercises…or a popular tai chi program for seniors called Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance (TJQMBB). Each group exercised for 60 minutes twice a week for 24 weeks.

Results: Compared with the multimodal exercise, TJQMBB reduced falls by 31%…and compared with the control (stretching), TJQMBB reduced falls by 58%. During the course of the study 733 falls were reported among 324 of the participants—363 falls in the stretching group…218 falls in the multimodal group…and 152 in the TJQMBB group. Also, fewer participants had falls in the TJQMBB group compared with the other groups—85 participants in the TJQMBB group reported falls, compared with 127 in the stretching group and 112 in the multimodal group.

There were no injuries related to any of the exercises and all the exercise programs were deemed equally safe. The researchers concluded that TJQMBB offers a significant reduction in fall risk for older people compared with traditional exercise programs.

Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance is based on the ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi and incorporates eight movements that have been modified into exercises that synchronize movement, balance and breathing. TJQMBB is being promoted for older adults by the National Council on Aging. You can find additional details about the program on its site. If you want to try TJQMBB, classes are offered at many YMCAs.

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