Teaming Up for Health

Fort Kent ~ Last summer, the local Senior College invited Ben Paradis to offer an introduction to Tai Chi which started a dialogue about bringing a full course to the Valley. Enough interest was generated by the demonstration to pursue the idea which led to the current partnership; and making the free course available to seniors in the St. John Valley. Dottie Sines, Nutrition and Health Consultant with the Aroostook Area Agency on Aging (AAAA) coordinated the training for two local volunteers to prepare them to teach Tai Chi for Arthritis. AAAA has partnered with Northern Maine Medical Center (NMMC) to make the course available to benefit health and wellness of St. John Valley residents.

Paradis, along with Bill Loder, will be teaching the ten week class in mid February. Loder said he first became interested in Tai Chi ten years ago when living in Virginia. With a background in computer programming, he saw Tai Chi as an opportunity to break away from his sedentary work at a computer work station. Loder said, “I looked forward to Saturday mornings in the park. The class gave me peacefulness and the flow of the movements gave me a sense of wellbeing.” He saw the AAAA program as an opportunity to renew his interest by receiving formal training and helping others learn and benefit from the art of Tai Chi.

In 1997, Dr. Paul Lam at the Tai Chi for Health Institute (TCHI) collaborated with the Arthritis Foundation of America to produce an instructional program to assist people dealing with chronic pain brought on by various forms of arthritis. According to medical experts, Tai Chi is an effective exercise program which increases flexibility, strengthens muscles and improves cardiorespiratory fitness. Tai Chi gently moves all joints, muscles and tendons resulting in increased flexibility. Tai Chi for Arthritis targets the body’s core, arms, legs, glutes and back muscles.

A study published in the Journal of Rheumatology, September 2003, showed that regular practice of Tai Chi for Arthritis improved physical function and balance by thirty percent and was effective in strengthening muscles by fifteen to twenty percent. The largest study of Tai Chi for Arthritis, by Professor Leigh Callahan from the University of North Carolina, shows significant health benefits for people with all types of arthritis. The landmark study, presented at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual meeting in 2010, documented improvement in pain, fatigue, stiffness and sense of well-being. Dr. Callahan, the study’s lead author, reported at the end of the eight week program that the individuals who had received the intervention showed moderate improvements in pain, fatigue and stiffness. They also had an increased sense of well being, as measured by the psychosocial variables, and they had improved reach or balance. Tai Chi for Arthritis is also supported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for meeting the highest level criteria for the Administration on Aging evidence based disease prevention and health promotion programs.

The ancient art of Tai Chi is a unique program requiring no special equipment and can be practiced almost anywhere, either alone or in a group. Loder and Paradis are both TCHI Board certified instructors. To learn more about the class, contact Joanne Fortin at 207-834-1353 or email at j.fortin@nmmc.org.

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