How long has the QEF been using cobblestone mats? In other words, what's your track record?
As a first adopter, the QEF has been using cobblestone mats for over four years in a self-directed, weight-bearing curriculum application in partnership with Generations United and the United Skate Schools Group. Our Balance Bookends and "Toes Knows" INTERGENERATIONAL BALANCE programs have helped countless older students (and many youngsters) become fitter, more relaxed, more agile and have a more symmetrically aligned posture and balanced gait.
Toes Knows? What’s that?
It’s a long story but here’s the Reader’s Digest version. Starting in the 2002 the Quest Educational Foundation started a program that focused on increasing physical activity in elder-centric environments using an inter-generational model focused on mobility, independence and aging.
The flagship class called Balance Bookends brings children 4-9 together with elders that are interested in maintaining a high-level of movement security.
(It is a one-of-a-kind program (designated "promising") in the Generations United (www.gu.org) member program data-bank.)
An off-shoot, called Eas-i-Chi, was developed in 2007-08 based on the Intergrative Chinese Medicine practice of acupressure stimulation in conjunction with an accessible Tai Chi format.
A further refining of this program led to Toes Knows. A class that specifically engages wee ones with "vintage adventurers" so both can benefit from a fun, well-paced, partner-based physical interaction. This program’s biggest benefit is the "take away" aspect of the learning that encourages personal growth and interaction beyond the instructional setting. It recently found a sister program called Silly Yoga that we’re looking forward to offering in 2009-10.
Are there wider applications and/or do you achieve broader benefits from the use of cobblestone mats?
Most definitely. Eas-i-Chi Walking Sessions can be viewed as a threshold activity that puts people on the path to a recreational, rehabilitative mind set. For instance, researchers from Sweden's Karolinska Institute found that people who exercise in middle age are far less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and other dementia when they are older. Dr. Miia Kivipelto of the Institute's Aging Research Center studied a group of nearly 1,500 patients 69 and older, whose exercise habits have been monitored for nearly 35 years. To her surprise, she discovered that people who engaged in "leisure time physical activity" at least twice a week as they passed through middle age, had a 50 percent lower chance of developing dementia, and a 60 percent lower chance of developing Alzheimer's disease, when compared with their more sedentary colleagues. A 2006 study has found that one hour of physical activity three times a week can extend longevity as much as 20 percent.
In fact, here is a letter from one of our students that touches on that exact issue.
I have noticed that at the age of 62, I
do not have the balance that I had 20 years ago. I can not imagine
how much worse it would be if hadn't found your program and taken up
these natural movement, coordination and balance classes? Am I
Phillip C. -Mature Adventurer
In a word: YES. How well people get around
and keep their
balance in a later stage of life is linked to the severity of
changes in their brains,
new research published in Neurology, March 2008 suggests.
Age-related white matter brain changes, also called leukoaraiosis, are frequently seen in older people and differ in severity, and the new study suggests that they are associated with gait and balance disturbances.
Neurologists, geriatricians and family doctors often send older patients for brain scans to rule out severe brain atrophy (wasting), a tumor, stroke or brain infection because of mild mental difficulties, unsteadiness or depressed mood, and get back white matter changes as the
main finding, Dr. Hansjoerg Baezner told Reuters Health.
Baezner, from University of Heidelberg in Mannheim, Germany, and colleagues studied the impact of age-related white matter changes on functional decline in 639 men and women between the ages of 65 and 84 who underwent brain scans as well as walking and balance tests. Of the group, 284 had mild age-related white matter changes, 197 moderate changes, and 158 severe changes.
They found that people with severe white matter changes were twice as likely to score poorly on tests of walking and balance as those with mild white matter changes. They further found that people with severe changes were twice as likely as the mild group to have a history of
falls. The moderate group was one-and-a-half times as likely as the mild group to have a history of falls.
"Walking difficulties and falls are major symptoms of people with white matter changes and a significant cause of illness and death in the elderly," Baezner said in a written statement. "Exercise may have the potential to reduce the risk of these problems since exercise is
associated with improved walking and balance. We'll be testing whether exercise has such a protective effect in our long-term study of this group."
The researchers say monitoring white matter changes may be useful in the early detection of walking problems, which have been linked to other health problems.
It's not clear why some people's white matter changes are worse than others or what causes the changes; however, studies have shown a link between these changes and insufficiently treated high blood pressure and diabetes.
Is there a general body of knowledge about cobblestone mats and empirical scientific evidence of these affects?
Acupressure response is a non-invasive "natural healing art" which is gaining widespread popularity in the realm of complementary and alternative medicine. (As witnessed by extensive research grants and projects currently funded by the National Institutes of Health--Institutes on Aging and the Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.) The effectiveness of the cobblestone walkway was established by a NIH grant funded study conducted by the Oregon Research Institute (ORI) which found that cobblestone mat walking exercise improved physical function and reduced blood pressure to a greater extent than conventional walking.
New York Times Magazine heralded Cobblestone Walking Mats as one of the most noteworthy ideas of 2005. Why?
Under the heading "Cobblestones Are Good for You" NYT Magazine cited the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society report conducted by the Oregon Research Institute (ORI) and funded by the National Institute on Aging and concluded "if you want to be fitter, more relaxed, more agile, the prescription is to walk on cobblestone mats." This research examined the millennia old Eastern tradition of walking on cobblestone paths. In Chinese parks it is a common sight to witness people walking in bare or stocking feet on paths made from a pattern of laid river-rounded cobblestone. For centuries upon centuries practitioners have reported feeling soothed and invigorated after such walks.
What are some of the specific health benefits from walking on cobblestone mats?
When ORI replicated the effect of cobblestone walking in the laboratory they found their control group had significantly lower blood pressure, a smoother, more functional gait, greater core body strength and better balance than a control group that did not employ cobblestones.
I've read the ORI Report Improving Physical Function and Blood Pressure in Older Adults Through Cobblestone Mat Walking: A Randomized Trial and was wondering, could the lower blood pressure reported by cobblestone mat walkers be the result of increased confidence in balance ability?
If you mean by having more confidence, participants felt less anxious about falling and, as a result, had lower blood pressure: that may be part of the benefit. We certainly rely on the balance system stimulation and the mind~body connection that stems from the self-confidence of feeling more stable, better balanced and having a good walking gait to enhance the wellness and fitness activities we employ in conjunction with use of the cobblestone mats.
What makes the QEF product or program unique?
The QEF Eas-i-Chi® Walking Sessions Program is the only one that is protocol-proven and client-tested in a curriculum-based format as noted and sponsored by funding from the NIH/National Institute on Aging.
It's really a question of theory and practice. Where the ORI work was done in a basic laboratory setting using empirical methodology, the QEF has been using the mats in a applied, practical curriculum-based application. What we uncovered was not only the importance of placing your feet on the mats, but properly preparing and pacing our students during the experience by adopting a Listening, Teaching, Learning and Leading~Guiding program.
How long does it take to sense improvement in my balance or feel some of the other physical function benefits?
You will experience benefits in 6 to 8 weeks. In fact, the process may occur so gradually and automatically that people may notice you moving better and more effectively before you even do!
What is the recommended duration and frequency of Eas-i-Chi® mat walking?
Following ten days of introduction, your body will be sufficiently acclimated to the stimulation to expand to the rest of the walking program. You can then use your mats daily if you wish, up to twice a day for a maximum of 20 minutes each time with no particular step session lasting more than five minutes.
Are there wider applications and/or do you achieve broader benefits from the use of cobblestone mats?
Most definitely. Eas-i-Chi® Walking Sessions can be viewed as a threshold activity that puts people on the path to a recreational, rehabilitative mind set. For instance, researchers from Sweden's Karolinska Institute found that people who exercise in middle age are far less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and other dementia when they are older. Dr. Miia Kivipelto of the Institute's Aging Research Center studied a group of nearly 1,500 patients 69 and older, whose exercise habits have been monitored for nearly 35 years. To her surprise, she discovered that people who engaged in "leisure time physical activity" at least twice a week as they passed through middle age, had a 50 percent lower chance of developing dementia, and a 60 percent lower chance of developing Alzheimer's disease, when compared with their more sedentary colleagues. A 2006 study has found that one hour of physical activity three times a week can extend longevity as much as 20 percent.
How about evidence of specific physio-therapeutic benefits?
Health professionals say there are four critical muscle balance principles important for maintaining flexibility, increased range of motion, breathing and proper posture and symmetrical alignment. The four principles are:
When we ran some tests on thirty-five cobblestone walkers using the precise measuring instruments of the kinesiologists, we found that our participants improved their performances remarkably in range of motion measurements and strength indices. Flexibility increased 20-50%. Muscle conditions went from 26 imbalanced muscles to only 4 after two weeks of two-a-day 15 minute walking sessions In another set of tests, we tracked the balance of muscles that affect a good walking gait in our participants, the third postural measure of general good health. We initially found that 42% of the participants had some gait mechanism impairment although none had serious impairments. These imbalances are the kind of impairment that all of us accumulate from stress and habitual patterns of incorrect muscle recruitment. We found that three weeks of daily 20 minute cobblestone walking sessions corrected all of these problems.
Lastly, there are a number of things that can cause the skull-to-sacrum motion--the fourth measure--to get out of tune. Trauma to the head, whiplash, prolonged tension, jaw or bite problems, and drugs are some of them. We have found that a combination program of Eas-i-Chi® walking sessions and the correct shoes (see next FAQ) corrects this problem as it exercises the small muscles around the ankle responsive to fore-aft stability, reduces forces on the joints, strengthens tendons and ligaments and permits our body to become the natural movement and mobility device it's designed to be.
What if I wanted to extend my Eas-i-Chi® walking mat experience?When you go barefoot, your movements become the movements of a child—playful and sensitive, yet purposeful and confident. You experience the unbound joy of stepping, hopping, and running across any surface on earth, simply to get from here to there.
Is there any scientific evidence to show that your attitude toward life helps you physically, not just mentally?
Yes. In a study published by roReport journal 12 healthy long-term meditators who had been practicing Transcendental Meditation for 30 years showed a 40-50% lower brain response to pain compared to 12 healthy controls. Further, when the 12 controls then learned and practiced Transcendental Meditation for 5 months, their brain responses to pain also decreased by a comparable 40-50%. http://www.neuroreport.com (August '06 issue). Transcendental Meditation could reduce the brain's response to pain because neuro-imaging and autonomic studies indicate that it produces a physiological state capable of modifying various kinds of pain. In time it reduces trait anxiety, improves stress reactivity and decreases distress from acute pain. According to Orme-Johnson, lead author of this research, "Prior research indicates that Transcendental Meditation creates a more balanced outlook on life and greater equanimity in reacting to stress. This study suggests that this is not just an attitudinal change, but a fundamental change in how the brain functions.
Quite common in China these walkways can be found in parks where
traditional medicine teaches the uneven surface of the stones
stimulates acupressure points on the soles of the feet to improve
physical and mental health.
We have found this to be a great way to perk up your senses, massage
your feet, and feel re-energized!
Clinically and empirically shown to Improve circulation, sooth the
nervous system and reduce overall stress.
"Cobblestone walkways are the perfect approach for those that endure standing on their feet for long periods or participate in conditioning sports such as running, jogging, hiking, golfing, long distance walking, chasing after small children or grand children..." Vern Gambetta, "The Leading Conditioning Coach in the USA" Gambetta Sports Training Systems, Sarosota, Florida
"I am 59 years old and suffer from high blood pressure. I started the QEF Eas-i-Chi® mat program about a 6 weeks ago and I have seen a dramatic change in my blood pressure levels. Even my doctor is amazed. I am usually skeptical of non-westernized medicine, but this ancient Chinese concept really works!" - Sophie from FL.