Tai Chi a hit with seniors

The fluid, hypnotic movements of Tai Chi make it look easy. But an hour of practising this ancient Chinese martial art is surprisingly strenuous, in a good way, of course.
This is what the close to 20 seniors enrolled in an afternoon Tai Chi class here are learning as they’re led through the graceful but deceptively complex steps by instructor Marg Gartshore.
“It’s a real workout,” said one flushed, energized student as she left the Memorial Sports Centre on Monday following the third week of classes.
“It’s a good class.”
This enthusiasm apparently was unanimous, particularly when the health benefits of Tai Chi were pointed out to the students.
“We really need this because my age group–seniors–tends to become sedentary,” said Vivian O’Donnell, who also is enrolled in the course. “It gets us moving.”
This is exactly the kind of reaction Dorothy Poperechny, with the Northwestern Health Unit here, was hoping for when she lobbied for the program last year.
“It’s so exciting,” she said yesterday. “I’m really positive about this and I’m really hoping to see it continue.”
At the core Poperechny’s desire to bring Tai Chi to the area was an effort to prevent injuries from falls among seniors. Because the practice of Tai Chi improves balance, it can greatly reduce the number of falls, she said.
The development of the program represents a partnership between the Northwestern Health Unit, the Rainy River Valley Safety Coalition, a local senior’s coalition, the United Native Friendship Centre, and Good Neighbours Council.
A last-minute helping hand later arrived from Riverside Health Care Facilities Inc., whose financial contribution allowed organizers to lower the price of the seniors’ course from $40 to $10.50 for eight one-hour classes.
But in order to continue the program, more support is needed, Poperechny stressed.
In addition to the seniors’ class, Gartshore, who lives in Dryden, teaches three evening classes which are open to the general public. So far, the combined classes have attracted more than 80 people.
“Actually, we opened up another class,” said Megan Ross, physical education director at the Memorial Sports Centre. “There was such a high demand for it.”
The appeal of Tai Chi, Gartshore said, is that everyone is capable of learning the exercises. “Anybody can do this, from people in a wheelchair to the elderly to children,” she remarked.
And the health benefits speak for themselves, Gartshore insisted. “I lost 113 pounds doing Tai Chi,” she said.
As well, Tai Chi helps to increase circulation and flexibility. It is particularly good for seniors, Gartshore noted, because it also can help reduce blood pressure and fight the effects of arthritis.
“And there are about 150 other health benefits, as well,” Gartshore said, such as improving asthma, heart disease, and diabetes.
A new eight-week session of Tai Chi will begin at the end of August.