Tai Chi Boosts Immune System in Older Adults

Posted March 27, 2007 by Acupuncture & Massage College & filed under Holistic Medicine


Tai chi chih, the westernized form of the 2,000-year-old Chinese martial art, may protect against the shingles virus by boosting the immune system, according to a new UCLA study. The 25-week study of 112 adults ages 59 to 86 showed practicing tai chi chih alone boosted immunity to a level comparable to having received the standard vaccine against the shingles-causing varicella zoster virus.

The study divided individuals into two groups. Half took tai chi chih classes three times a week for 16 weeks, while the other half attended health education classes—including advice on stress management, diet and sleep habits—for the same amount of time and did not practice tai chi chih. After 16 weeks both groups received a dose of the shingles vaccine Varivax. At the end of the 25-week period, the tai chi chih group achieved a level of immunity two times greater than the health education group. The tai chi chih group also showed significant improvements in physical functioning, vitality, mental health, and reduction of body pain.

When tai chi chih was combined with the vaccine, immunity reached a level normally seen in middle age. The findings demonstrate that tai chi chih can produce a clinically relevant boost in shingles immunity and add to the benefit of the shingles vaccine in older adults. Approximately one-third of adults over 60 acquire the infection. The report appears in the April issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

“These are exciting findings, because the positive results of this study also have implications for other infectious diseases, like influenza and pneumonia,” said lead author Michael Irwin, the Norman Cousins Professor of Psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. “Since older adults often show blunted protective responses to vaccines, this study suggests that tai chi is an approach that might complement and augment the efficiency of other vaccines, such as influenza.” The results, said Irwin, confirm a positive, virus-specific immune response to a behavioral intervention.

Dr. Richard Browne has practiced and taught tai chi for over 20 years. For more information about group and private classes, contact Dr. Browne at (305) 595-9500.

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