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Tai Chi: Improving Functional Balance and Predicting Subsequent Falls in Older Persons


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: December 2004 - Volume 36 - Issue 12 - p 2046-2052
doi: 10.1249/01.MSS.0000147590.54632.E7
Clinical Sciences: Clinically Relevant

Purpose: To determine whether improved functional balance through a Tai Chi intervention is related to subsequent reductions in falls among elderly persons.

Methods: Two hundred fifty-six healthy, physically inactive older adults aged 70–92 (mean age ± SD = 77.48 ± 4.95), recruited from a local health system in Portland, OR, participated in a 6-month randomized controlled trial, with allocation to Tai Chi or exercise stretching control, followed by a 6-month postintervention follow-up. Functional balance measures included Berg balance scale, dynamic gait index, and functional reach, assessed during the 6-month intervention period (baseline, 3-month, and 6-month intervention endpoint) and again at the 6-month postintervention follow-up. Fall counts were recorded during the 6-month postintervention follow-up period. Data were analyzed through intention-to-treat analysis of variance and logistic regression procedures.

Results: Tai Chi participants who showed improvements in measures of functional balance at the intervention endpoint significantly reduced their risk of falls during the 6-month postintervention period, compared with those in the control condition (odds ratio (OR), 0.27, 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.07–0.96 for Berg balance scale; OR, 0.27, 95% CI, 0.09–0.87 for dynamic gait index; OR, 0.20, 95% CI, 0.05–0.82 for functional reach).

Conclusions: Improved functional balance through Tai Chi training is associated with subsequent reductions in fall frequency in older persons.

1Oregon Research Institute, Eugene, OR; 2Willamette University, Salem, OR; and 3University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana-Champaign, IL

Address for correspondence: Fuzhong Li, Ph.D., Oregon Research Institute, 1715 Franklin Boulevard, Eugene, OR 97403; E-mail:

Submitted for publication April 2004.

Accepted for publication July 2004.

©2004The American College of Sports Medicine