Energy from “Softness”

Exploring the Perspectives of Healthy Older Adults Participating in a Community- Based Tai Chi Exercise Program


  • Nerida Koert van der Linden University of Western Ontario
  • Erin Pearson Lakehead University
  • John Gotwals Lakehead University
  • Taryn Klarner Lakehead University
  • Erin Cameron Northern Ontario School of Medicine


Tai Chi, Older Adults, Group-Based Exercise, Qualitative Research, Exercise Adherence, Community-Based Exercise Programs, Community-Based Research, Group Dynamics


Only 13% of older Canadians achieve weekly physical activity (PA) recommendations suggesting that health promotion efforts are warranted. Tai Chi (TC) is a martial art identified as an accessible form of PA for older adults. While research has supported TC's ability to enhance health among those with chronic conditions, no studies have investigated healthy older adults who are experienced in TC practice. To uncover avenues to enhance PA rates and adherence, the study purpose was to explore qualitatively, the perspectives of experienced, healthy older adult TC practitioners'.  Older adults who identified as healthy and had been practicing TC for at least 1 year were recruited from a community-based program in Northwestern Ontario, Canada. Semi-structured interviews, observations, and field notes were collected and analyzed using inductive content analysis.  Eleven participants (Mean age = 64.9 years; male, n = 8) with an average of 13.6 years TC experience were enrolled.  Analysis revealed five themes with associated subthemes including: reasons for joining (e.g., becoming active; novelty); participant principles related to TC and aging (e.g., being kind to an aging body; "doing it right"); challenges to practice (e.g., difficulty of movements; class size); facilitators for practice (e.g., health benefits; energy from softness), and group dynamics (e.g., delivery format; synchronized movement).  Findings suggest that in this population, TC is gentle and holistic, and facilitators to practice outweigh the challenges. Researchers and health care providers should adopt similar program characteristics (e.g., group-based format, supportive instructors, facilitated social network) when seeking to promote PA in older adults.


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