Tai Chi promotes exercise and balance for seniors Leave a comment


Seven women gathered in the basement activities room of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church near Blain, working on memorizing and mastering a series of meditative motions as part of a regular exercise class.

Some of them are new to Tai Chi, the Chinese martial art that emphasizes breathing control, balance, muscle memory development and meditation. Others have been participating in the class for several years. But they all like it for how it allows them to get an hour of exercise, improving their health.

“I travel all the way from Newport because I love it,” said Nancy Walker.

The six students in the class follow instructor Bonnie Luther, a Master teacher who operates Mountain Tai Chi School in Newport, as she leads them through a series of moves that include hand, arm, leg and body movements going by names such as punches, pushes, and brushing. As the class progresses, it looks like a complex dance.

“It’s a lot of stretching and balance,” said Debbie Noye of Elliottsburg. “It gets your heart rate up without a lot of effort.”

Noye likes the Tai Chi class so much, she even practices the movements outside of the class in her spare time.

The class is offered a couple times a year in both the eastern and western parts of Perry County and for varying skill levels in conjunction with the Perry County Area Agency on Aging’s exercise programs. The class last week was Tai Chi 2, but introductory classes are also offered. Officially, the class is Tai Chi for Arthritis and Falls Prevention.

“Many studies have shown Tai Chi to be one of the most effective exercises for preventing falls. Tai Chi for Arthritis and Falls Prevention improves muscular strength, flexibility, balance, and stamina,” said Allyson Valentine, the agency’s outreach coordinator.

Some participants love it so much, they brought a friend.

Marie Garvey recently moved from Enola to Elliottsburg and began taking the Tai Chi class for a different way to exercise. It offered her a low-impact exercise following a bout with a couple of illnesses. She liked it so much, she told her friend Donna Stoke of Loysville.

“It’s helping me, too,” Stoke said.

Tai Chi may not look like a strong exercise from an observer’s perspective because it emphasizes slow, methodical and precise movements. But concentrating on those specific body movements to get them just right uses a lot of muscles.

“The first two times, my shoulders hurt afterward,” Stoke said.

Luther studied Tai Chi from masters in Boston and Harrisburg, and she is a certified Tai Chi teacher, studying and instructing for nearly 30 years. Balance, memory, coordination, and deep breathing are some of the greatest assets of participating in Tai Chi, she said. Tai Chi is also an exercise art that builds mental calm and balance.

“You learn the movements yourself through repetition, and you’re feeling better,” she said. “When they’re doing the movements, they’re focused and that’s meditation.”

The health benefits of the exercise are the reason why many of the participants, who range in ages from their 50s to early 80s, continue to come back. Everyone gets something out of it, despite their limitations, they said.

Walker said she really likes Tai Chi. She had knee surgeries in the past and her knees can be painful during exercise. Through Tai Chi, she gets exercise without the impacts that can aggravate her knees, she said. And the exercise’s uniqueness makes it a fun draw, too.

“It’s sort of exotic,” Walker said. “We all have farm backgrounds, and here we’re doing this funky Tai Chi.”

Participants can move at their own pace, Luther said.

“Tai Chi can’t be forced, and shouldn’t be forced. It’s not a contest. You do what you’re capable of,” she said.

And they like how it’s helping them to socialize, too. That’s been a challenge for many people over the past year because of the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing to prevent the spread. They’re all thankful to get out and interact with others. All the women wore their masks for the entire class. It didn’t faze them. On warm days, they’ll sometimes do their Tai Chi outside to take advantage of the spring flowers and fresh air.

“It gets us out of the house,” said Pat Hutchins of New Bloomfield.

This is her first time taking the Tai Chi class. She has COPD, the lung condition that makes it difficult to breath even during normal activities. Tai Chi is a good workout for her, and she’s looking for more.

“I’d consider doing it again,” Hutchins said.

Anyone that would like to try the Tai Chi class, or any of the Area Agency on Aging’s other exercise programs, can reach out to Allyson Valentine at 717-582-5128, or by email at avalentine@perryco.org.

Jim T. Ryan can be reached via email at jtryan@perrycountytimes.com



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