Take a guess: which of the following conditions resulted in the highest number of deaths in older Minnesotans in 2013: diabetes, falls, kidney disease, influenza or pneumonia? If you guessed falls, you a correct. Minnesota has the nation’s fourth highest rate of fall-related deaths. Even if a fall doesn’t result in death, it can create the life-changing challenge of broken bones or a traumatic brain injury.

If you are starting to become concerned about your balance, you can take action to avoid becoming another fall-related statistic. According to the latest research, exercises that strengthen your legs and improve your balance, such as tai chi, can make a difference. Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance is a fall prevention program that uses the principles and movement of tai chi to help older adults improve balance and increase confidence for everyday activities.

According to the researcher who developed it, Fuzhong Li of the Oregon Research Institute, the modified tai chi program was more effective in preventing falls among people with Parkinson’s disease than traditional programs.

It can also be practiced by people who struggle with mobility issues. “One chair. No equipment. With yoga, you have to have a mat and get down on the floor. We don’t need that. We can do this anytime, anywhere” he shared with the Star Tribune when he visited St. Paul in 2015 to train local aging organizations on how the lead the course.

Proven to reduce the risk of falling, Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance improves muscle strength, flexibility and mobility through coordinated movements using slow, flowing movements. Anyone can benefit from the program, even if they use a cane or walker.

Thanks to generous support from HealthEast and the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, this program will be offered at a discounted rate starting in January. This year’s series will take place at Community Thread’s Bayport Senior Center starting in January. The 12-week, 24-session-program builds on traditional tai chi by integrating the movements into daily functions and will be led by a trained instructor.

Classes will be held twice a week from 11 am to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting January 23 for $42 per person. Class size is limited and people must register by January 12 by calling 651-439-7434. At a cost of $1.75 per class, it is a real bargain for improving balance and avoiding a costly, and perhaps even life-changing, fall.

By: Sally Anderson