Tai Chi classes at the Sanibel Recreation Center continue to grow in popularity as islanders learn the health benefits of the ancient Chinese martial art.
Dr. Mark Rowe, a retired professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, started teaching the class in the Lee Memorial Health System four years ago and was asked to offer it on the island. It has since become so popular that during the season Rowe teaches as many as eight classes and there is a waiting list.
During last Monday's class, Rowe explained to new students that Tai Chi was about getting the mind and body to work together.
Dr. Mark Rowe leads students in a Tai Chi exercise at the Sanibel Recreation Center. Mckenzie Cassidy.
"The goal is not to be young again, but to train the mind and body to achieve and maintain function and independence well into the 90's," he said.
Students used their entire body to shift weight correctly and walk across a series of pads on the floor. Their goal was to maintain balance by keeping the body aligned.
"You feel the earth with your feet and develop a sensitivity without looking down," he said.
Rowe said most people think Tai Chi is simply swinging your arms around, but it's a full body exercise requiring a significant amount of mental concentration.
For the elderly it's an opportunity to maintain functionality and independence through training muscles and performing exercises that Rowe said are also proven to improve brain function. The average person loses 10-15 percent of muscle every decade after the age of 50, he said, which can be reversed through resistance exercises like Tai Chi.
Falls continue to be the leading cause of injury and death for people 65 and older in Lee County and most of the Tai Chi exercises stress balance through centering the body, training leg muscles, and developing meditative focus.
The program at the Sanibel Recreation Center is directed at what Rowe calls the Four Evil Horsemen of Aging: Balance issues, dementia, strength loss, and stress. And even though it's a martial art, there is no physical contact with other people.
Rowe added that reaping the benefits of Tai Chi requires a complete change in lifestyle and multiple days of training each week to learn the complexities of the art.
Tai Chi classes are currently offered every Monday at 1:30 p.m. at 3880 Sanibel-Captiva Road. For more information about the class or the Sanibel Recreation Center, visit www.mysanibel.com or call 472-0345.