2004 IIQTC Pilot with National Council on Aging (NCOA) and The Healer Within Foundation -- Healthy Aging with Tai Chi Easy


An innovative collaboration has triggered a new wave of Qigong and Tai Chi to serve broader populations, especially for Active Aging. The partnership of the National Council on Aging (NCOA), The Healer Within Foundation, and the Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi (IIQTC) seeks to aid individuals in gaining the health benefits of regular Qigong and Tai Chi practice, without the long learning curve of the customary training path of some styles of these moving meditations. This set of practices can be disseminated through senior programming and residences as well as in hospitals, YMCAs and public health programs for enhancing health, reducing stress, improving balance and nurturing vitality.

Project Summary

In 2004, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) chartered Roger Jahnke, OMD, Director of the Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi and founding Board member of The Healer Within Foundation, to create Tai Chi Easy. Tai Chi Easy, a simple, easy to replicate, and effective approach to Qigong and Tai Chi, presents the powerful self-care and health promotion practices from Chinese medicine specifically tailored for healthy aging. Jahnke, with 30 years of clinical practice of traditional Asian medicine and master teacher of these arts describes the essential areas of practice as:

  • Posture and gentle movement
  • Breath practice
  • Self-applied massage
  • Meditation, visualization and mind focus

All Qigong, Tai Chi, Yoga and some more complementary mind/body wellness methods are composed of these four essential components. These can be done in any order that works best, and vary the segment lengths as needed.

Growing Problem to Solve

In 2000, there were 34.8 million Americans over the age of 65 and this number is expected to reach 82 million by 2050. There are significant challenges in meeting the needs of this growing population. Studies have shown that physical activity is the single most important factor in maintaining healthy function yet only 23% of those 75 years and older engage in regular physical activity, defined as 20 minutes of moderate activity 3 or more days per week. An active lifestyle is associated with many physical and mental health benefits for older adults:

  • Improves balance
  • Reduces depression and pain
  • Improves mood and feeling of well-being
  • Reduces risk of chronic disease such as osteoporosis and management of active health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, or diabetes

Tai Chi fulfills the current recommendations for exercise for fitness: it is moderate intensity (between 70-90% max heart rate), uses large muscles, lasts between 20-60 minutes, and can be done most days of the week.

Tai Chi has many advantages as an exercise program. No special equipment is required, allowing it to be performed anywhere. It can be done alone or with others; group participation also provides opportunity for socialization. In addition, the compliance rate was high among the many studies, indicating that people enjoyed the activity, and did it on their own. This is crucial to establishing a regular exercise program. With recent research involving older adults producing evidence that Tai Chi can help improve balance and lower blood pressure, the next step was to create a method of teaching Tai Chi to older adults without its frustrating learning curve.

How the Pilot Was Conducted

To recruit the national pilot locations, The Healer Within Foundation - Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi , put out a call for participant test sites via email for the 8-10 week course to be taught to seniors (anyone over the age of 50). Eighteen test sites were recruited, with the facilitators working with active to very fragile seniors. The pilot trained its volunteer facilitators by phone bridge meetings, with training aids supplied by The Healer Within Foundation - Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi.

Facilitators administered two sets tests before and after the completion of the study, the Activity-Specific Balance Scale (ABC) Scale and Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) and divided the groups into experienced and novice practitioners. Data was collected to maintain anonymity of the participants. Participants of the study had to complete a minimum number of classes before their data was considered to be part of the study.

Results Achieved - Study Highlights

There were a total of 18 sites that participated in the collaborative project of The National Council on Aging (NCOA), The Healer Within Foundation (HWF), and the Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi (IIQTC). Study data was reviewed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Center for Healthy Aging. 345 participants, with the mean age of 73, and were placed into two groups, experienced and novice. Eighty-nine percent of all participants enjoyed the program; 91% stated that they wished to continue, and 67% of all participants found the program helped them to be more active than usual. 179 participants were in the experienced group; 166 in the novice group. Most importantly, both groups significantly reduced their perceived stress from pre-test to post-test as measured by the combined Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) score.

The results of this pilot project were presented to the 2004 annual conference of the American Society on Aging (ASA) in San Francisco, by Jim Firman, CEO of NCOA and Roger Jahnke, OMD of The Healer Within Foundation-Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi. Both the NCOA and the ASA have moved three very interesting items into their agendas: falls prevention, physical activity, and chronic disease self-managed care, all of which are addressed by Qigong and Tai Chi.

What's Next

The research analysis team at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the key players of the Center for Healthy Aging, agreed that the preliminary findings merit further investigation. NCOA representatives expressed interest in a much more rigorous study and the capacity to find funding to do so. There was also discussion of next steps: 1) to catalogue Qigong and Tai Chi activity throughout the United States and 2) to convene a panel of experts to further refine the health needs of the aging community and the best pathways to meet those needs using Qigong and Tai Chi.