Old People, Mortality Stats, and T’ai Chi

T'ai Chi (Shutterstock.com) Why is there such a strong association between T’ai Chi and Old People?

I was driven to find the answer after listening to friends’ reactions to the news that I had started taking T’ai Chi Lessons.  “Isn’t that for old people?”  my 74 yr old man friend who has been on the prowl for a woman companion since his wife died about 6 years ago, asked with wide-eyed wonder.  I had no eloquent riposte.  I’ve pretty much stopped telling people about the T’ai Chi because it just seems too complicated to put into an ‘elevator speech’.  Naturally, I didn’t know this when I started, but I did know why I started.

Rx: Taoist T’ai Chi

Starting in Nursing School, and through continuing education, T’ai Chi was hailed as an excellent exercise for the elderly.  The primary claim was that it improved balance and prevented falls.  I had heard it recommended by physicians, physical therapists, and other nurses. By the third time I suggested it to one of my elderly patients, none of whom took the suggestion, I decided I should know something about it and promptly bought a book with an accompanying DVD.  I, then, promptly set it down. This was just too hard to learn on my own.

Practicing T’ai Chi didn’t quite make it on to my ‘One Year To Live Experiment’ Bucket List but it did make it on to year #2’s list.  I wanted to experience this T’ai Chi, just to see what would happen.  A lot happened. I, who could, already, balance on one foot while holding the other head-high, have better balance after 4 months of beginner lessons. There have been many benefits. Google ‘health benefits of T’ai Chi’ and you can read all about it.  But the benefit I treasure most was that I was learning something absolutely new.  A blank slate. A beginner’s mind. It was humbling to set aside everything I thought I knew about my body moving and learn anew.  It was also comforting and titillating to trust the teachers, because they earned the trust.

Doing The Tao in Black & WhitesSo Is It For Old People?

I did an informal, un-scientific study of the practitioners at the 150 member ‘branch’ where I take lessons.  Among the beginners there was one male in his 70’s. The rest ranged in age from early 30’s – 60’s.  The 70’s year old discontinued after about 4 weeks.  In the continuing classes there are many people in their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s along with the beginners as they continue on.  I began asking the over 70’s folk how long they’d been practicing. An 88 yr old woman said “a bit over 30 years”.  The 90 yr old Greek gentleman reported practicing for 50 years.  I have no idea what anyone’s health status is. But it was obvious that they all walked with confidence and grace, and smiles.

It is so easy to make jokes about T’ai Chi. After all, it is considered a Martial Art, an Internal Martial Art, in very Slo Mo.  But I won’t.

My conclusion?   When one starts, and sticks with T’ai Chi for a while, then there’s a better than average chance that one will become one of the Olders still practicing into the high decades.  And, my 74 yr old friend looking for a companion is missing an opportunity.

The Average Age Of Death in the U.S.

Is 78.8 years, as reported by the CDC in their Mortality Statistics.  We know that none of us really fits into this category. Mortality rates are sub-divided by gender, ethnicity, and dozens of other categories.  But average is good enough.  It’s the number I used when I asked myself “how many years do I, statistically, have left before my Last Great Adventure of This Life?”  It was more sobering than my One Year To Live Experiment.

There has been a plethora of main stream writing, and posting about end-of-life issues these days: new housing / living options for the aging, having ‘the conversation‘, use of anti-psychotic pharmaceuticals among the elderly, etc.  Please visit our Facebook Page for articles of interest, too numerous to elaborate here.

But, from Blogger Bart Windrum at www.axiomaction.com, something to be aware of:

7 Deadly Obstacles To Dying in Peace

  1. Failure to recognize prior medical engagement as heroic  (prior surgeries or medical interventions)
  2. Exposure to medical snafus
  3. Ignorance regarding life support matters including systemic over-rides
  4. Over-reliance on advance directives
  5. Inability to advocate medically for a loved one or oneself
  6. Difficulty distinguishing among dying situations
  7. An opaque (not transparent) dying marketplace

And I would add one more:  an inability to evaluate treatment options objectively, which goes along with #7.  P.S.  Bart calls himself ‘a bit snarky‘.  And after watching him do an original rap song, I think I get what he means by ‘snarky’.  But he has some good info.


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