How Seniors Can Improve Balance and Stability with Tai Chi

Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on January 21, 2016Written by Gretchen Stelter on January 21, 2016
Senior Tai Chi

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese movement practice that offers participants a number of health benefits. For seniors in particular, the health benefits can be significant. That’s because it focuses on muscle control, stability, balance, and flexibility.

If that doesn’t get you interested, consider that it’s all about chi (more traditionally spelled qi and pronounced “chee”). Chi translates to “life energy.” That means practicing tai chi can result in more energy, especially for those with degenerative or chronic health issues.

Tai Chi Routine for Seniors

The subtle movement of your body in all of the movements listed below will help you increase balance.

The poses in this routine can also be done in a chair. But if you can, it’s better to do them standing. For more support, you can always stand behind a chair and hold onto the back.

Warmup

This warmup will help improve balance and work your leg muscles. It will also open up your spinal energy channels and revitalize your nervous system.

Leg Warmup

  1. Stand with your legs slightly wider than hip-distance apart, with a slight bend in your knees. Slowly get used to shifting your weight from left to right. Your arms can be resting at your side; your hands can be on your hips. You can also rest your hands on a chair back for support.

  2. Slowly and with control, shift your weight onto 1 leg, supporting about 70 percent of your weight on that leg. Then switch to the other leg.

  3. Repeat at least 3 times.

Torso Twists

  1. After you’ve done the leg warmup a few times, return to the middle to begin twisting your torso. For this movement, put your hands on your hips to help you feel how much you are turning — you don’t want to be turning from the hips. Rather, you want to turn from the torso.

  2. Take a deep inhale and feel your spine grow longer. As you exhale, gently twist just your torso. Your hips will naturally move with your torso a little, but this is a twist for your spine. Your knees should stay above your ankles. They should stay equally bent. This is very subtle, but the small movements actually work your core. This increases your core stability.

  3. Let your breath guide how fast you move here. Twist at least 5 times to both sides.

Holding up the Sky

This is a wonderful movement for digestion, respiration, and stretching your abdominal region. This will help with core stability. It also strengthens and stretches the back.

  1. Standing in the same neutral position as the warmup, step your left foot to hip-distance apart at most (they can be closer if you are comfortable with it), your hands resting at your sides. Bring your hands together in from of you, palms facing down, your fingertips pointing in toward each other, and your arms as straight as you can comfortably get them.

  2. Look at your hands and continue to do so as you breathe in gently and begin to arc your arms straight out in front of you and up, until they are above your head.

  3. As you exhale, release your wrists so your palms are facing down as you let your arms gently arc down to your sides, like a bird flapping its wings.

  4. Repeat at least 5 times.

Drawing the Bow

This opens the chest and lungs, stimulating the heart and circulation. It also helps build strength in the arms, shoulders, chest, and legs.

  1. Step out with your right foot, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Look to the right with your head and torso, like the gentle twist from before.

  2. Make your hands into loose fists, and inhale as you lift both arms to chest height out to your right. Your right arm will, of course, reach a bit farther than your left, since you are turned.

  3. As you exhale, pull your left elbow back, lift your right thumb and forefinger to the sky (pointing up), and bend your knees, squatting as deeply as you comfortably can.

  4. Look beyond the backward “L” you are creating with your right hand. Inhale here, and exhale as you release your hands down, straighten your legs, and ease back to neutral.

  5. Repeat on the other side.

  6. Repeat this at least 3 times on each side.

Penetrating Heaven and Earth

This is a great shoulder stretch. It helps energy flow through the joints and increases circulation to your organs. It also stimulates and stretches the front side of the body.

  1. After Drawing the Bow, step your left foot back in. Your feet should be hip-distance apart. Rest your hands to your sides.

  2. As you inhale, lift both hands palms up, fingertips pointing in toward each other, to chest height. When you get there, relax and exhale briefly.

  3. As you inhale, send your right hand palm up, above your head. Send your left hand palm down, back to your pelvis.

  4. As you exhale, pull them back to meet, keeping them in the midline of your body. As you inhale, switch the movement, your left hand rising and your right hand lowering.

  5. Repeat this movement at least 8 times as you breathe slowly with control.

The Takeaway

Practicing tai chi several times a week can offer a number of healthy benefits for seniors. Be sure to see your doctor before starting any new exercise routine.

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