T'ai Chi can help older people improve balance, which can protect them from falling and breaking their bones. It is also a safe way to build muscle strength.
Older people lose coordination and are at increased risk for falling. T'ai Chi is a specific training program aimed at teaching people how to maintain balance so that they can withstand the attack of an enemy and remain on their feet. It involves slow, purposeful movements that apply the same forces on muscles that require far heavier forces with faster movements. So T'ai chi strengthens muscles with far less force on muscles and far less susceptibility to injury. Using this method an older person can get the same strengthening of muscles and balance control with slow movements that a much younger person can get using far faster movements with much greater force on muscles. The risk of injury in T'ai chi is very low, which is an advantage at any age but exceptionally important for older people who are starting a new exercise program.
Evaluation of the effectiveness of Tai Chi for improving balance and preventing falls in the older population - A review. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2002, Vol 50, Iss 4, pp 746-754. G Wu, Univ Vermont, Dept Phys Therapy, 305 Rowell Bldg, Burlington,VT 05405 USA
Thanks for the information! My grandmother is currently going through physical therapy for a fractured leg, so I wonder if tai chi might be something that would be good for her to try down the line, as her coordination has greatly disintegrated over the years.