Question:I'm a healthy, active senior and walk two to three miles almost every day. Many of my friends insist I have to come to Tai Chi with them. They say it builds strength and balance. Doesn't walking do the same thing?
Answer:The benefits of walking as an inexpensive but effective form of exercise are well known. Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that has gained in popularity in recent years. Studies to identify the exact benefits of Tai Chi are also becoming more commonly reported.
A recent study of 16 Tai Chi masters (men and women) showed how the movements differ from walking. A special computerized program was used to measure the pressure through the bottom of the foot both during Tai Chi and during walking.
They found that the center of pressure was different for these two forms of exercise. In Tai Chi, the pressure was more toward and through the big toe compared to walking where the pressure is more toward the middle of the foot. Since the big toe is important in balance, Tai Chi is likely a good exercise to improve balance and posture.
Tai Chi has also been shown to help maintain ankle motion, improve stability, and increase muscle strength. Both Tai Chi and walking have positive effects on the heart, lungs, balance, and strength. Seniors who engage in both are more likely to maintain overall fitness but especially balance and coordination needed to prevent falls.De Wei Mao, PhD, et al. Plantar Pressure Distribution During Tai Chi Exercise. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. June 2006. Vol. 87. No. 6. Pp. 814-820.
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