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Seniors use Tai Chi to stay fit, active

March 18, 1999

Tai ChiBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photos: RIC DUGAN: staff photographer




WAYNESBORO, Pa. - The movements are so slow that it's hard to believe they could provide any physical benefits, but apparently the ancient Chinese knew what they were doing when they invented Tai Chi.

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The 25 people taking a six-week Tai Chi course at the Waynesboro Senior Center say the exercises help them to keep their balance better and improve their short-term memory, breathing and coordination.

"It's helps older people," said Lori Schearer, 31, a physical therapist assistant at Chambersburg Hospital who is teaching the course at the center. The hospital sponsors the Tai Chi courses for seniors in Waynesboro, Greencastle, Pa., and Chambersburg, Pa.

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Tai Chi helps practitioners gain an awareness of their bodies through a series of 108 movements, all done with the hands, foot positions and the shifting of their bodies. To the novice it looks like they're moving giant beachballs around their bodies in very slow motion.

"It was hard for me to slow down at first," Schearer said. "Tai Chi is either frustrating or calming. You learn by repeating, by incorporating your mental capacities to focus on a task over and over. It teaches you about your own body."

Senior Tai ChiThe average age of the 21 women and four men taking the course at the center is in the early 80s. One woman who needed a walker to get around sat on the sidelines in a chair and tried to follow the movements from the waist up.

Irene White spent the first half-hour on the floor with her colleagues doing the movements according to Schearer's choreography. She walked over and sat down next to the woman with the walker. "I can only do it for a while," she said. "I'm moving things I haven't moved in a long while. The best part about this is that it gets you in the habit of getting around and not sitting in a chair all the time."

She said she didn't want to overdo it with the exercises until she's sure she can handle them. "I'm 90 years old," she said.

Emma Bowser, 82, of Waynesboro, likes Tai Chi because it has helped her learn to breathe better. "It helps seniors with their balance," she said. "It's also nice to get together with other people."

A foursome including Donald and Martha Black of Waynesboro and Earnest and Helen Dingle of Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., were waving their hands and bodies to Schearer's commands on the left side of the gymnasium.

"This is good exercise. It helps to keep you loosened up," Earnest Dingle said.

"It keeps your mind active," his wife said. "You have to think about what you're doing. It's also fun for the camaraderie."

Martha Black likes Tai Chi because it's good therapy for her recent knee operation. "I've got to keep it moving," she said. "I'm 77 and I'm trying to keep active."

Added her husband, "You have to exercise before you get sick, not afterwards."

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