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  1. Gallagher, Bill MS, PT, CMT, CYT


Evidence mounts that Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan, T'ai Ch'i Ch'uan) and Qigong (Chi Gung, Chi Gong, Chi Kung), a system of physical and mental practice, is a preventative and restorative therapy for elders seeking to reverse or prevent frailty by preventing falls, improving balance, strengthening, enhancing cardiorespiratory fitness, treating arthritis, and eliciting a relaxation response. Knowledge of Chinese internal martial arts, together with clinical biomechanics and psychophysiology, suggests that Tai Chi and Qigong should also benefit some elders who have incontinence or low back pain. The combination of direct and indirect evidence can serve as a springboard for further evaluation of this system by researchers and clinicians.


AS the lifespan lengthens both elders and rehabilitation professionals are increasingly driven to find ways to prevent frailty or at least reverse it. Frailty includes slow and unsteady gait, weakness, poor endurance, fear of falling, general anxiety, osteoporosis, and incontinence. It may have an insidious onset, or may begin precipitously with an event such as myocardial infarction or hip fracture. Frailty often resembles a downward spiral. For example, poor balance can elicit fear of falling, which, in turn, leads to decreased physical activity. Diminished activity causes a gradual loss of strength, endurance, and motor control, thereby impairing balance further. More fear often follows when the individual realizes the growing decline in functional mobility.


Traditional Chinese medicine views frailty as a pattern of bodily disharmony. In turn, Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan, T'ai Ch'i Ch'uan) and Qigong (Chi Gung, Chi Gong, Chi Kung) appear to be potent interventions for elders seeking to prevent or reverse the spiral into frailty. Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art that specializes in maintaining mental and physical balance while neutralizing an opponent's attack. The traditional practitioner of Tai Chi Chuan joins with the foe's force to unbalance the opponent in preparation for throws, joint locks, or strikes. Tai Chi Chuan involves keeping the knees flexed and the head and trunk erect. The participant constantly shifts weight from one foot to the other, executing slow movements in all planes through a continuously changing range. Diagonal motion is prominent.


Qigong is a system of Yoga encompassing physical, mental, and spiritual practice. In this article, techniques employed by Qigong to quiet the mind and reduce tension, as well as techniques associated with Tai Chi Chuan and other martial arts, including Xingjiquan (Hsing I Chuan, Hsing Yi) and Baguazhang (Pa Kua Chang), are discussed.