Tai Chi Infection Protection

Reported March 17, 2004

LOS ANGELES (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Each year, up to 14,000 people over age 60 develop shingles, a painful nerve disease that comes from the chicken pox virus. Shingles often results in extreme pain that can last for months. Now a simple exercise can protect against the virus.

Roberta Taggart knows she gives more than relaxation to the seniors in her tai chi classes. "Just by becoming quiet and doing the form, they could inwardly get in touch with their body and feel very connected," she tells Ivanhoe.

But that's not the only benefit. A new study shows tai chi -- slow exercise and intense meditation -- protects seniors against the shingles virus.

Psychiatrist Michael Irwin, M.D., of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute in Los Angeles, says, "As we age, or as we experience declines in our immune function, this virus can express itself and produce a very painful rash." The rash clears, but Dr. Irwin says patients are often left with extreme sensitivity to pain. "They can ultimately become depressed and withdraw from their normal activities because of that pain."

Dr. Irwin's study shows three classes of tai chi a week for 15 weeks boosts shingles immunity by about 50 percent. "There's nothing currently available to boost shingles immunity to match what we did," he says. And that's not all. "We found significant improvements in the older adults who practiced tai chi and their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks." He says tai chi could also offer protection against other viruses.

Gaunnie Dixon feels the benefits. "It keeps me pretty much grounded," she says. "I'm more relaxed."

Taggart says she was surprised at the study results. "The benefits are great. A boost in the immunity by 50 percent? What older adult wouldn?t want that?

Each tai chi class is about 45 minutes long. Tai chi has also been shown to help illnesses such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and arthritis. Many senior centers offer these types of classes. The Patience Tai Chi Association also offers a list of tai chi instructors by state as does a Web site devoted to tai chi chuan.

This article was reported by Ivanhoe.com, who offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week. To subscribe, go to: http://www.ivanhoe.com/newsalert/.