Soft music played in the background as 11 adults, ranging in age from 66 through 81, moved slowly in unison, following the voice prompts of their instructor. It was a Tuesday morning, and the Tai Chi/Qigong class was underway in the activity room of the Billerica Council on Aging.
Breathing deeply, the seniors executed the Yang-style 16-move form or routine. They finished the choreographed movements, rested for a few moments, and began again.
Research shows that classes like tai chi are especially helpful for seniors, and instructor Joanne Shaughnessy agrees. “It’s wonderful for your balance because it’s slow and you have to think about your connections with the earth and your feet on the ground. With the slow movement you control not just your muscles, but also your tendons. It’s good for memory because you have to learn the form. It’s good for relaxation once you learn the form.”
Jennifer Dewar needs no convincing. She has been practicing tai chi for a couple of years now, off and on. “Exercise is very necessary,” she said “This is very good because breathing and stretching are really important. Getting the class for free helps, too.”
This particular class was supported by a grant from Lahey Hospital & Medical Center (LHMC) as part of the hospital’s community benefits program. “LHMC is committed to working with community organizations to improve the health of residents,” said Christine Healey, director, Community Relations. “The hospital has a long standing history of working with the Billerica COA and we are pleased to support the exercise program with a this grant. We know that cost can be a barrier to exercise class participation and offering free exercise opportunities ensures that seniors have access to the core exercise programs which aim to improve health and decrease social isolation.”
“As a primary community partner, Lahey Hospital & Medical Center continues to help us lead in aging services with a range of health and wellness programs for seniors that allows them to stay in the community for as long as possible,” said Jean Patel Bushnell, director, Billerica Council on Aging. “Funding for Brain and Balance, S.A.I.L. (Stay Active and Independent for Life), Reiki treatments, Zumba, Cardio-Boost and tai chi classes by Lahey fuels the independence and overall well-being of our membership.”
In addition to being good for health, the free classes are good for those with limited income, said senior Pat Meeks. “More people on limited incomes can participate,” she said.
For information on tai chi and other classes offered at the Billerica COA, visit their website.