2017-03-15 / Healthy Living

Simple tai chi moves help maintain independence, relieve sore spots

BY KATE LYNCH
Lee Health

Rock forward and backward with your feet planted nicely on the floor; nose over knees, we’re going to say “lift” and just lift our bodies up a couple inches off our seat backs — go up.

These simple movements are a warmup exercise — the ‘butt lift,’ which promotes the action of standing up from a chair or toilet seat. This ability and the ability to walk or walk with assistance, and at the minimum — get up and transfer to a wheel chair or walker — are important parts of preserving personal independence, especially for older adults. Through a series of eight adapted tai chi movements, participants improve flexibility through upper and lower body movements, and improve mind-body skills such as coordination and focus.

People at all levels of mobility can participate in the 12-week Tai Chi for Better Balance program, which is offered through the Area Agency on Aging for Southwest Florida. It improves balance, movement and confidence and provides gentle relief for the stiffness of muscles, aches and pains that happen with aging.

Deb Stephens, a Lee Health parish nurse at Sanibel Community Church, Right at Home nurse and certified and trained tai chi instructor through Area Agency on Aging for Southwest Florida, teaches Tai Chi for Better Balance classes.

The program provides exercises that help build confidence in performing every-day movements. “When I say reach forward to the horse’s mane and then brush back, they’re thinking, ‘I’m reaching forward,” she says. “But what they don’t realize is that they are shifting weight forward and backward, which is so important for good movement, walking and feeling balanced in general.”

Annette Klein, a 95-year-old nurse and former public health teacher, attends Ms. Stephen’s tai chi classes. “I’m calmer now,” Ms. Klein says. “I came here crying and now I’m OK. It’s delightful for me to do all this stuff; whenever I see something like this I say, ‘Wow, — this is my cup of tea.’ I love it, and I love seeing older people that like to do this. It makes me very happy to be here.”

Seasonal resident Judy Cyr participates regularly and learned about it when she attended a Lee Health Mini Medical Series at Bonita Springs YMCA. “I haven’t been diagnosed with arthritis but I know I have it, as you can see in my fingers. I’ve noticed I’m having problems with my shoulder, but the tai chi movements are good for different sore spots I have,” Ms. Cyr explains. “Deb is a very good teacher. I’ve taken tai chi with two other instructors up north. They’re good, but she’s much more explanatory, so it makes things easier to understand where I’m able to follow each step she gives us.”

“You don’t need equipment or really anything and you can do it sitting.” Ms. Stephens says. “This is a great program that truly improves quality of life. I’ve seen people in the first week unable to get out of their chairs, and by the end, using their bodies’ and the mechanics to get up. So many participants are surprised at how much their balance has improve, which is critical to prevent falls.” ¦

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