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Release Date: Fri, 6 Apr 2007 
Subject: TAI CHI BOOSTS IMMUNITY TO SHINGLES VIRUS IN OLDER ADULTS,
NIH-SPONSORED STUDY REPORTS 
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH <http://www.nia.nih.gov/>
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine 
(NCCAM)< http://nccam.nih.gov/ >
 
Tai Chi, a traditional Chinese form of exercise, may help older adults
avoid getting shingles by increasing immunity to varicella-zoster virus
(VZV) and boosting the immune response to varicella vaccine in older
adults, according to a new study published in print this week in the
"Journal of the American Geriatrics Society".  This NIH-funded study is
the first rigorous clinical trial to suggest that a behavioral intervention, 
alone or in combination with a vaccine, can help protect older adults 
from VZV, which causes both chickenpox and shingles.
 
The research was supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and
the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM),
both components of NIH...
 
"One in five people who have had chickenpox will get shingles later in
life, usually after age 50, and the risk increases as people get older,"
says NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. "More research is needed, but 
this study suggests that the Tai Chi intervention tested, in combination 
with immunization, may enhance protection of older adults from 
this painful condition." 
 
"Dr. Irwin's research team has demonstrated that a centuries-old
behavioral intervention, Tai Chi, resulted in a level of immune response 
similar to that of a modern biological intervention, the varicella 
vaccine, and that Tai Chi boosted the positive effects of the vaccine,"
says Andrew Monjan, Ph.D., chief of the NIA's Neurobiology of Aging Branch. 
 
The randomized, controlled clinical trial included 112 healthy adults
ages 59 to 86 (average age of 70). Each person took part in a 16-week
program of either Tai Chi or a health education program that provided
120 minutes of instruction weekly. Tai Chi combines aerobic activity,
relaxation and meditation, which the researchers note have been 
reported to boost immune responses. 
The health education intervention involved classes about a variety 
of health-related topics.
 
After the 16-week Tai Chi and health education programs, with periodic
blood tests to determine levels of VZV immunity, people in both groups
received a single injection of VARIVAX, the chickenpox vaccine that was
approved for use in the United States in 1995. Nine weeks later, the
investigators did blood tests to assess each participant's level of VZV
immunity, comparing it to immunity at the start of the study. All of the 
participants had had chickenpox earlier in life and so were already immune 
to that disease. 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,and 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 further showed that the Tai Chi group's rate of increase in 
immunity over the course of the 25-week study was double that of the 
health education (control) group. The Tai Chi and health education groups'
VZV immunity had been similar when the study began.
 
In addition, the Tai Chi group reported significant improvements in
physical functioning, bodily pain, vitality and mental health. Both
groups showed significant declines in the severity of depressive
symptoms.
 
Shingles, or herpes zoster, affects the nerves, resulting in pain and
blisters in adults. Following a case of chickenpox, a person's nerve
cells can harbor the varicella-zoster virus. Years later, the virus can
reactivate and lead to shingles. 
More information on Tai Chi can be found on NCCAM's website at
<http://nccam.nih.gov/health/taichi/>. 
More information about shingles is available from the NIA at
<http://www.niapublications.org/agepages/shingles.asp> and also from
<http://www.NIHSeniorHealth.gov>, an NIH website for older adults.
 
 

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