Tai Chi Boosts Immunity to Shingles Virus in Older Adults, NIH-Sponsored Survey Finds
There's evidence that the ancient art of Tai Chi may help older adults avoid getting a painful condition known as shingles by boosting the immune response to the varicella vaccine.
Schmalfeldt: Historically,Tai Chi has been considered one of the Chinese martial arts. However, the practice of slow motion routines that groups of people practice every morning in parks across China and other parts of the world has developed a worldwide following for its perceived health benefits. Some have even called Tai Chi—"moving meditation." Now, there's evidence that this ancient art may help older adults avoid getting a painful condition known as shingles by boosting the immune response to the varicella vaccine. Research supported by the National Institute on Aging and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggests that a behavioral intervention like Tai Chi—used alone or in a combination with a vaccine—can help protect older adults from the varicella-zoster virus, which causes shingles. Dr. Andrew A. Monjan, Chief of the Neurobiology of Aging Program at the NIA, explains.
Monjan: Several other smaller studies have looked at exercise to help immunity and well-being. Certainly we know that the brain can modulate immunity, and this may be working through brain systems because Tai Chi is not only an exercise program but it also involves meditation and stress reduction.
Schmalfeldt: In the study, Tai Chi alone was found to increase participants' immunity to varicella as much as the vaccine typically produces in 30-to 40-year old adults. Tai Chi combined with the vaccine produced a significantly higher level of immunity, about a 40 percent increase, over that produced by the vaccine alone. The study also showed that the study participants participating in Tai Chi had an increase in immunity that was double that of the group of participants that took part in health education. Dr. Monjan said the impact of this study may go beyond protection from shingles alone.
Monjan: The interesting thing here is that the implications are that it may be not be limited to zoster, but it may be something that would be a behavioral adjudant — a way of boosting the immune response of older people to a number of other vaccinations such as for influenza since there was nothing specific in the Tai Chi related to shingles.
Schmalfeldt: The study appeared in a recent edition of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. From the National Institutes of Health, I'm Bill Schmalfeldt in Bethesda, Maryland.