Tai chi could be the secret to staying fit into your nineties

A group of seniors spend an afternoon indoors in a health center. They are doing group tai chi together.
Tai chi is a "fluid, gentle" exercise to do in your nineties. [Photo: Getty]

While most can’t imagine working out into their nineties, one expert believes it could be the perfect time to take up martial arts.

Dr Samuel Nyman from Bournemouth University is urging elderly people to practise tai chi to keep them fit into their twilight years.

READ MORE: Tai chi can help build strength, relieve pain

People aged 65 or over sit down for an average of 10 hours a day, making them the most inactive age group, according to the NHS.

While aches and pains may make exercise unappealing, a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to everything from a higher risk of falls to obesity and heart disease.

Staying active could also give the elderly an energy boost, enabling them to socialise and stay independent for longer.

Speaking at the House of Lords, Dr Nyman said: “Think of exercise and it conjures up the thought of working hard in the gym.

“But in a care home in your nineties, you can do tai chi.

“It’s a very gentle and fluid form of exercise.”

READ MORE: The Senior's Guide to Exercise

Many frail people worry being overly active will make them fall and break a bone.

However, research suggests the opposite is true.

Scientists from Emory University in Atlanta looked at 200 adults with an average age of 76.

The pensioners were taught tai chi, along with “computerised balance training”.

After 15 weeks, their risk of falls went down by up to 47.5%.

They also showed greater grip strength, improved lower body movement and less “fear” of falling.

Tai chi is thought to prevent falls by “strengthening the leg and ankle muscles”, while “challenging balance”, Age UK reported.

The NHS also recommends the “low-impact exercise”, which “most people should be able to do”.

As if that wasn’t motivation enough, staying fit could also keep your brain sharp.

“There is a link between grey matter density and activity levels,” Professor Paul Greenhaff, from the University of Nottingham, said.

Grey matter is involved in everything from movement and memory to decision making and emotions.

Its volume can decline with age or the onset of dementia.

READ MORE: The 5 Most Common Running Injuries and How to Fix Them

As with all age groups, exercising in later life prevents unhealthy weight gain, while promoting good heart health.

With many elderly people bedbound, the price of their inactivity could be almost immediate.

“Put someone in bed and they become insulin resistant within 24 hours,” Professor Greenhaff said.

Insulin resistance occurs when the body’s cells fail to properly respond to the hormone insulin and is a “driving factors that leads to type 2 diabetes”, according to Diabetes.co.uk

If tai chi seems a little too “new age”, Dr Nyman recommends swimming as a similarly gentle way to stay fit.

And working out needn’t be a chore, with people being able to fit it in around their daily routine.

“Exercise can be walking to the bus,” Dr Nyman said.

“Or do an activity you enjoy and that lets you socialise.”

The NHS recommends adults aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, which could include fast walking, water aerobics or playing tennis.

It also advises people take up muscle-building activities, like weight training or heavy gardening.

While this may seem a lot for a 90-year-old to take on, the NHS stresses they should build up to it slowly, with anything being better than nothing.

“The more you do the better and it’s never too late to start,” Dr Nyman added.