Shingles, a painful skin condition, may be prevented by Tai Chi, an ancient Chinese martial art, according to researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles. Tai Chi is commonly used as a low-impact exercise for older people.
Study findings indicated that elderly people who performed Tai Chi enjoyed better immune responses against the shingles-causing virus, compared to those who just received health education. Shingles most commonly affects people over the age of 50. Participants in the study included 112 healthy volunteers, aged 59-86. Half of them had three Tai Chi classes each week for 12 weeks, while the other half had health education classes without Tai Chi lessons.
Six months later, those who had received the Tai Chi lessons had almost twice the immunity levels against shingles, compared to the control group. The researchers found that the Tai Chi group managed to develop a level of immunity comparable to younger people who have received the standard vaccine against the shingles-causing varicella zoster virus. The study was recently published in 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.
Tai Chi can improve health and fitness levels for people of all ages. Unlike more strenuous physical activities, Tai Chi's slow, balanced movements are accessible to individuals that may have some physical limitations. Tai Chi practitioners define one of the discipline's health benefits as the ability to restore a yin-yang physiological balance to chi, or life energy. Muscle movements in Tai Chi exercises stimulate the flow of chi through the body and the major organs.
Tai Chi exercises cultivate growth and storage of chi leading to longer life, better health and faster recovery from accidents. Tai Chi’s aerobic effect increases metabolism and physical conditioning occurs with regular practice. Tai Chi can also help elderly practitioners reduce their risk for falls and boosts the sympathetic nervous system function, which is related to cardiovascular health.
Different tai chi exercises have one thing in common; they have a psychological benefit gained by the mind-body link in Tai Chi exercises. Practice directs the mind to focus on the moves, reduces distractions and results in peace of mind.
For more information about Tai Chi for health and well being call Dr. Richard Browne, Acupuncture Physician and Tai Chi instructor at (305) 595-9500. For information about Acupuncture & Massage College’s Oriental Medicine and Massage Therapy programs ask for Joe Calareso.