Objective: To evaluate the effects of two exercise approaches, Tai Chi (TC) and computerized balance training (BT), on specified primary outcomes (biomedical, functional, and psychosocial indicators of frailty) and secondary outcomes (occurrence of falls).
Design: The Atlanta FICSIT (Frailty and Injuries: Cooperative Studies of Intervention Techniques), a prospective, randomized, controlled clinical trial with three arms (TC, BT, and education [ED]. Intervention length was 15 weeks, with primary outcomes measured before and after intervention and at 4-month follow-up. Falls were monitored continuously throughout the study.
Setting: Persons aged 70 and older living in the community.
Participants: A total of 200 participants, 162 women and 38 men; mean age was 76.2.
Measurements: Biomedical (strength, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, body composition), functional (IADL), and psychosocial well-being (CES-D scale, fear of falling questionnaire, self-perception of present and future health, mastery index, perceived quality of sleep, and intrusiveness) variables.
Results: Grip strength declined in all groups, and lower extremity range of motion showed limited but statistically significant changes. Lowered blood pressure before and after a 12-minute walk was seen following TC participation. Fear of falling responses and intrusiveness responses were reduced after the TC intervention compared with the ED group (P = .046 and P = .058, respectively). After adjusting for fall risk factors, TC was found to reduce the risk of multiple falls by 47.5%.
Conclusions: A moderate TC intervention can impact favorably on defined biomedical and psychosocial indices of frailty. This intervention can also have favorable effects upon the occurrence of falls. Tai Chi warrants further study as an exercise treatment to improve the health of older people.