The symbolic value of tai chi for older people

Peter Scourfield (Institute of Health and Social Care, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge)

Quality in Ageing and Older Adults

ISSN: 1471-7794

Publication date: 1 June 2006


This article is based on a small‐scale study into a tai chi class for older people at risk of falling. The aims of the research were first, to explore what benefits the class members felt they derived from practising tai chi and second, and more specifically, whether or not the class members actually practised tai chi at home. The study was based on two broad assumptions. The first being that the practice of tai chi has benefits for older people at risk of falling. The second assumption being that, such benefits that might result from tai chi, increase with more frequent practice. The latter assumption prompted the desire to investigate whether the class members practised tai chi at home. It was hoped that if it was discovered that class members derived benefits from tai chi, and were, for whatever reason, prevented from practising at home, that some solutions could be found in order to facilitate further practice.The research revealed, somewhat surprisingly, that the members did not believe that tai chi had necessarily reduced their risk of falling. However, notwithstanding this, their commitment to tai chi was very strong. The findings suggest that tai chi had a symbolic value for this predominantly middle‐class group. It allowed them to ‘buy into’ a third age lifestyle, despite increasing intimations of entering the fourth age. The members used tai chi, not only to improve balance and fitness, but also as a means of achieving a positive self‐image. It was therefore an age‐resisting strategy that operated on both a physical and symbolic level.



Scourfield, P. (2006), "The symbolic value of tai chi for older people", Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 4-12.

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