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Tai Chi may Be Useful to Prevent Shingles in Older Adults

A new study says that Tai Chi, may be helpful in preventing shingles in elderly adults. The traditional Chinese exercise has been found not only to increase// the immunity to varicella-zoster virus (VZV) but also boost the immune response to varicella vaccine as well.

This National Institutes of Health (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.

"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
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