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Tai chi invigorates seniors
Seniors citizens in Willows are meditating in motion.
Ever since taking up tai chi one year ago, Barbara Kistner, 86, has not only improved her strength and balance, but said her overall health and sense of wellness and tranquility have greatly improved.
"I did Yoga for several years," Kistner said during Wednesday's tai chi class at the Senior Nutrition Center. "This is better. Tai chi just makes you feel good."
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art form that today is practiced as a graceful form of exercise.
It involves a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner and is typically accompanied by deep breathing.
"I love it," said Lorraine Baird, who has been taking the class just six weeks. "I have a really bad shoulder and now it has really loosened up."
Although it is practiced by people of all ages, tai chi is particularly popular among the elderly, said Boots Wampler, another participant.
Tai chi puts minimal stress on muscles and joints, making it generally safe for all ages and fitness levels.
"It's great exercise," Wampler said.
Tai chi has been offered at the Willows Senior Center for a number of years, and is recommended by most local health providers.
"I think tai chi is one of the best exercises any age of people can do, but especially beneficial to seniors," said nutritionist Missy Beavers of the Health Habit. "It is a low-impact exercise that improves the flow of the lymph system, strengthens muscles and increases energy flow through the entire body."
Beavers spent a summer teaching English in China and said the entire community would assemble each morning to do tai chi.
"There was a large number of older adults in the group and their agility and grace never ceased to amaze me," she said.
One of the primary benefits of tai chi is the substantial decrease in the risk of falls in older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
An Oregon study comparing the effectiveness of a six-month program of tai chi classes with a program of stretching exercises found that participants in tai chi not only had fewer fall injuries, but that their risk of falling decreased 55 percent, the CDC reported.
Kistner said the program began to improve her balance immediately.
"Now I can walk at Sycamore Park and can go up and down on the work-out station," said Kistner, who had triple heart bypass. "I plan to keep it up. I even do tai chi at home."
Tai chi has many different styles, each emphasizing various tai chi principles and methods.
Some styles focus on health maintenance, while others focus on the martial arts aspect of tai chi.
Willows participants work out to an instructional video that focuses on deliberate movements that promote balance and overall well-being.
The class is offered from 11 a.m. to noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Willows Senior Center as part of a comprehensive program that includes nutrition and socialization among seniors.
Most of those taking the class stay for the noon meal.
For many seniors, the Senior Center's lunch is the only hot, nutritious meal of the day, said Supervisor Cathy Cabral.
In addition to exercise, Beavers said good nutrition is important to overall health.
The challenge for many aging adults, however, is preparing meals for just one or two, she said.
"Many people rely on processed, packaged foods that are easy to prepare," she said. "While these are convenient, they are loaded with chemicals and sugars that an aging body does not easily detox. A healthy diet for seniors is one that includes whole foods. This means foods that have not been touched by a manufacturer, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and meats."
Beavers said aging adults must also focus on digestion for good health.
"As we age our body naturally slows down in production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes, so digestion becomes slow and sluggish," she said. "Many seniors treat this by eating more fiber, which will help move food through the gut, but a better solution would be to add some probiotics and digestive enzymes."
One of the most important things for good nutrition is to keep added sugars in the diet to a minimum in order to keep blood sugar in balance and avoid the threat of diabetes, she said.
"Meals should be creative and enjoyable and leave you feeling nourished and energized," Beavers said. "In short, the nutrition guidelines for healthy aging could be summed up as follows: Eat whole foods, limit sugar intake, enjoy your meals and move your body every day. Oh yes, and drink water."
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.