A UCLA study shows that practicing TCC improves physical immunity. This study looked at the effect of TCC practice on improving immunity to shingles in older adults, but the lead researcher said this work may also have importance for preventing flu and penumonia.
T’ai Chi Chih Boosts Immune System in Older Adults
(Excerpted from an article in Science Daily, available here.)
T’ai Chi Chih significantly boosts the immune systems of older adults against the virus that leads to the painful, blistery rash known as shingles, according to a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study.
The 25-week study, which involved a group of 112 adults ranging in age from 59 to 86, showed that practicing T’ai Chi Chih alone boosted immunity to a level comparable to having received the standard vaccine against the shingles-causing varicella zoster virus. When T’ai Chi Chih was combined with the vaccine, immunity reached a level normally seen in middle age. The report appears in the April 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The results, said lead author Michael Irwin, the Norman Cousins Professor of Psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, confirm a positive, virus-specific immune response to a behavioral intervention. The findings demonstrate that T’ai Chi Chih can produce a clinically relevant boost in shingles immunity and add to the benefit of the shingles vaccine in older adults.
“These are exciting findings, because the positive results of this study also have implications for other infectious diseases, like influenza and pneumonia,” said Irwin, who is also director of the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology. “Since older adults often show blunted protective responses to vaccines, this study suggests that T’ai Chi Chih is an approach that might complement and augment the efficacy of other vaccines, such as influenza.”
The study divided individuals into two groups. Half took T’ai Chi Chih classes three times a week for 16 weeks, while the other half attended health education classes — including advice on stress management, diet and sleep habits — for the same amount of time and did not practice T’ai Chi Chih. After 16 weeks, both groups received a dose of the shingles vaccine Varivax. At the end of the 25-week period, the T’ai Chi Chih group achieved a level of immunity two times greater than the health education group. The T’ai Chi Chih group also showed significant improvements in physical functioning, vitality, mental health and reduction of bodily pain.
The research follows the success of an earlier pilot study that showed a positive immune response from T’ai Chi Chih but did not assess its effects when combined with the vaccine.
The varicella zoster virus is the cause of chickenpox in kids. Children who get chickenpox generally recover, but the virus lives on in the body, remaining dormant. As we age, Irwin said, our weakening immune systems may allow the virus to reemerge as shingles. Approximately one-third of adults over 60 will acquire the infection at some point.
“It can be quite painful,” Irwin said, “and can result in impairment to a person’s quality of life that is comparable to people with congestive heart failure, type II diabetes or major depression.”
The study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Aging and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Each TCC teacher — across the US and Canada, in Europe and beyond — has his or her unique story of the benefits gained from TCC practice. Here, in a newspaper interview, Mississippi and New Jersey teachers and students explain:
T’ai Chi Chih offers a range of benefits over time
By Michaela Gibson Morris, Daily Journal, 11/1/13
With gentle gestures and quiet rocking motions, the class battles with vertigo, arthritis, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure and stress.
In the years Ron Richardson has been leading T’ai Chi Chih classes like the one at First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo, his students have told him the practice has improved their balance, lowered their blood pressure and relieved their pain.
“People really have to be committed to learning the movements,” Richardson said. But when they do, “they often see great benefits.”
T’ai Chi Chih, which is sometimes described as a moving meditation, was developed in part from the ancient Chinese martial art by the late Justin Stone, who died last year at the age of 97. T’ai Chi Chih has 19 basic movements and one pose. Most beginners can get comfortable with the movements in about eight classes.
It doesn’t require special equipment, physical conditioning or stamina. The movements have descriptive names like “Around the Platter” and “Pulling Taffy.”
“The movements are so slow and graceful,” said Stephen Thompson, who leads a community practice group at Lee Acres park in Tupelo. “They’re done very easily.”
Although it’s much simpler than the traditional T’ai Chi Ch’uan – which has 106 movements – T’ai Chi Chih still requires regular practice. The benefits of T’ai Chi Chih didn’t come overnight, but they did come for Daisy Aycock, who regularly attends classes at the NMMC Wellness Center. After a severe inner ear infection that destroyed her sense of balance, Aycock said she tried T’ai Chi Chih on the suggestion of her neurologist after exhausting conventional medicine options.
“This has been a slow process,” Aycock said, and it took persistence and discipline over two years to regain a comfortable level of balance. “I’m wearing high heels again.”
The simple, soft movements and quiet practice combine to balance the body physically and emotionally. For many, there’s a spiritual component, although instructors emphasize T’ai Chi Chih isn’t a religion.
Instructor Margaret Baker, who hopes to establish a free community class in Verona, said she often will do the movements as the praise team performs at her church. The practice has improved her balance and given her a sense of calm.
“I’ve been hooked on it,” Baker said. “I do something every day.”
Although T’ai Chi Chih is often attractive to older folks who are starting to experience issues with balance as well as chronic health problems, the practice isn’t limited by age.
“People don’t need to take balance for granted because they were young,” said Richardson, who has had students in their 20s and in their 80s. “We need to nurture the balance in our lives.”
Later this month, a nationally recognized T’ai Chi Chih teacher, Daniel Pienciak, will lead two workshops in Tupelo.
“We’ve had several workshops over the years,” Richardson said. “He will bring a wealth of information. He is a master in these movements.”
The advanced Seijaku workshop, Nov. 6 through 8, is drawing participants from across the country.
The T’ai Chi Chih workshop, which will be offered Nov. 8-10 would be great for beginners who want an in-depth experience.
“It’s a chance to delve a little deeper,” said Pianciak, who has practiced T’ai Chi Chih since 1995 and became an instructor in 1997. In 2012, he was appointed as a teacher trainer.
The workshop will focus on helping people perfect the movements and understand more of the principles Justin Stone used to develop T’ai Chi Chih.
“The more you discover, the more there is to discover,” Pianciak said. “That’s what hooks people. … It doesn’t become old hat or boring.”
Justin Stone (1916-2012), who originated the moving meditation T’ai Chi Chih in the early 1970s, was featured prominently in the news by 1990. Here’s a Los Angeles Times article that year about Justin and TCC for those who may not have seen it before:
The Moving Joy of T’ai Chi Chih
“It’s joy through movement,” says Justin F. Stone, who originated it.
“It’s a moving meditation,” says Bill Pierce, who practices it.
“It’s the exercise of the ’90s,” says Corinn Codye, who teaches it.
It’s T’ai Chi Chih, the practice of a series of simple, elegant movements said to enhance the flow of the “chi,” or life force, through the body. By performing these non-stressful, non-aerobic movements, T’ai Chi Chih adherents claim to circulate energy that creates a feeling of well-being.
“Everybody is looking for stress relief, calm,” says Santa Barbara T’ai Chi Chih teacher Corinn Codye. “T’ai Chi Chih is something they can do and learn quickly.”
That simplicity is the key to the growing popularity of T’ai Chi Chih–and accounts for the difference between it and t’ai chi ch’uan.
Justin Stone, a Carmel artist and musician, practiced and taught t’ai chi ch’uan for many years, but found that almost none of his students had the patience and discipline to master the 108 movements of the ancient Asian discipline. Older people had difficulty executing some movements, and nearly everyone had trouble memorizing the long sequence.
Stone decided to develop a series of simpler and fewer movements that would yield the same benefits as t’ai chi ch’uan. He developed 20 movements and postures that could be easily performed by anyone and called them T’ai Chi Chih, or “knowledge of the supreme ultimate.”
Stone began teaching the discipline in 1974. Since then, the movement has grown internationally. In the Southland, T’ai Chi Chih is taught in private classes, municipal recreation programs, community colleges and senior citizen centers.
Nearly everyone who practices T’ai Chi Chih reports such results as inner peace, “centeredness” and a greater sense of joy in living. Bill Pierce, a student of Codye’s in Santa Barbara, describes feeling “expansive” while performing the movements.
“I especially like the fluid quality of the movements,” Pierce says. “It’s like learning a musical instrument and not being so concerned with the notes, but rather the expression.”
Instructors teach that fluidity by telling students to “imagine swimming through heavy air” as they perform such poetically named movements as “bird flaps its wings” and “daughter in the valley.”
To an outsider, the movements have the elegance of hula, an appearance of expressive, slow-motion dancing. “Daughter In The Valley,” for example, is a scooping motion with the hands while the body rocks gently forward, then a separating of the hands while rocking gently back.
Though T’ai Chi Chih is easy to learn, its real benefits are said to come from daily practice–ideally, according to Stone, 10 or 15 minutes in the morning and another 10 or 15 minutes in the late afternoon or early evening.
“Properly done,” Stone says, “the result should be a flow of energy and a feeling of well-being like the aftermath of an internal bath.”
Balance is also stressed in T’ai Chi Chih–balance, that is, of the two so-called components of the life force, the yin and the yang. Yin and yang are described metaphorically: Yin is cold, contraction, the receptive, female, negative; yang is heat, expansion, the creative, male, positive.
The movements stimulate the flow of each force, then bring them together. Each T’ai Chi Chih movement ends with a balancing gesture called “the graceful conclusion”–a reverent-looking posture with the hands, palm down, at the sides and knees slightly bent.
Concentration is stressed as well, but unlike meditation, T’ai Chi Chih does not require silence, chanting or a conscious stilling of the mind. Instead, concentration is focused on the soles of the feet–”to bring energy from the heart down to flow through the whole body,” explains Stone.
Though much of T’ai Chi Chih is taught and explained metaphorically, practitioners say the results are tangible.
Pam Towne, a Cypress instructor, worked last year with professional golfer Ann Marie Palli and this year will work with other golfers on the Ladies Professional Golfers Assn. circuit. “Ann Marie found that T’ai Chi Chih was right in line with things she was working on: relaxing her body, mind, focusing on her feet to get grounded before a swing,” Towne says.
Tais Hoffman of San Clemente teaches T’ai Chi Chih in a halfway house, to women who have just completed a 21-day drug/alcohol detoxification program.
“It brings them right into the present moment,” Hoffman says, “so they’re not thinking of cravings, or what they may be doing later.” Hoffman credits T’ai Chi Chih with solving a circulation problem (“I always had cold hands and feet, but never anymore”) and giving her a “much more balanced energy level.”
*What are your memories of early T’ai Chi Chih practice in your life?*
TCC received a boost in national awareness when AARP‘s magazine explained many of the benefits practitioners have realized. Here’s the article as originally printed, including drawings demonstrating the movements. Weight loss, lowered blood pressure, improved vitality and balance are just a few of the gains. The article also mentions that “A University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse study found that older adults who practiced T’ai Chi Chih for five weeks experienced less stress and greater well-being.” TCC teachers and students of all ages – youths, young adults, and those in mid-life as well as seniors – have found these benefits as well.
“T’ai Chi Chih: Exercise without breaking a sweat”
by Roselee Blooston, AARP: The Magazine, Nov./Dec. 2010
Raymond Reid, 67, of Portland, Maine, was overweight and suffering from high blood pressure when his doctor told him it was time to get serious about exercising. Reluctant to jump into a vigorous exercise program, Reid instead signed up for a class in T’ai Chi Chih (pronounced tie chee chuh), a mix of meditation and movement that focuses on balance and the circulation of energy known in Chinese philosophy as chi. T’ai Chi Chih is a variation of tai chi but simpler: Tai chi consists of 108 movements, while T’ai Chi Chih has 19 stand-alone movements and one pose. “I loved the simplicity of it,” says Reid, a retired pastry chef who is now a certified T’ai Chi Chih instructor. Within six months, Reid lost 38 pounds, normalized his blood pressure, and, with his doctor’s blessing, cut his medication in half.
Known to its practitioners as “the effort of no effort,” T’ai Chi Chih was developed in 1974 by tai chi master Justin Stone as a gentler form of Tai chi for older students. It’s easy to learn and offers benefits beyond fitness: A University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse study found that older adults who practiced T’ai Chi Chih for five weeks experienced less stress and greater well-being.
Try These T’ai Chi Chih Movements (Illustrations by Chris Philpot)
Stand with feet parallel, arms at your sides. Raise your arms slowly, palms up, while simultaneously rising on the balls of your feet. Then lower your arms, palms down, while letting your heels touch down and raising your toes slightly. Repeat 9, 18, or 36 times.
Bird flaps its wings
Stand with heels together and toes splayed, palms facing each other below waist, fingertips down. Flap your arms while bending knees and raising heels. Return to original position and repeat the exercise. The third time, after flapping arms, move wrists in circular motion 1 1/2 times before returning to the starting position.
Daughter on the mountaintop
Step forward with left foot, hands at sides, palms up. As your weight shifts forward to your bent left leg, swing hands slowly in circular motion in front of you, crossing your wrists. With your weight fully forward, straighten right leg and raise right heel. Then shift back and repeat with other leg. Do 9, 18, or 36 times.
“Tai Chi Chih beats back depression in the elderly, study shows,” reads the headline of a 2011 news article reporting on research findings at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The evidence, shown in multiple studies over several years, is compelling. Why wait until we age even further? Why not begin a TCC practice today?
Readers can check the TCC website for a list of teachers in their local areas. It’s never too early in life, and it’s never too late!
The numbers are, well, depressing: More than 2 million people age 65 and older suffer from depression, including 50 percent of those living in nursing homes. The suicide rate among white men over 85 is the highest in the country – six times the national rate.
And we’re not getting any younger. In the next 35 years, the number of Americans over 65 will double and the number of those over 85 will triple. So the question becomes, how to help elderly depressed individuals?
Researchers at UCLA turned to (T’ai Chi Chih*). When they combined a weekly (T’ai Chi Chih) class with a standard depression treatment for a group of depressed elderly adults, they found greater improvement in the level of depression – along with improved quality of life, better memory and cognition, and more overall energy – than among a different group in which the standard treatment was paired with a weekly health education class.
The results of the study appear in the current online edition of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
“This is the first study to demonstrate the benefits of (T’ai Chi Chih) in the management of late-life depression, and we were encouraged by the results,” said first author Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a UCLA professor-in-residence of psychiatry. “We know that nearly two-thirds of elderly patients who seek treatment for their depression fail to achieve relief with a prescribed medication.”
In the study, 112 adults age 60 or older with major depression were treated with the drug escitalopram, a standard antidepressant, for approximately four weeks. From among those participants, 73 who showed only partial improvement continued to receive the medication daily but were also randomly assigned to 10 weeks of either a (T’ai Chi CHih) class for two hours per week or a health education class for two hours per week. All the participants were evaluated for their levels of depression, anxiety, resilience, health-related quality of life, cognition and immune system inflammation at the beginning of the study and again four months later.
The level of depression among each participant was assessed using a common diagnostic tool known as the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, which involves interviewing the individual. The questions are designed to gauge the severity of depression. A cut-off score of 10/11 is generally regarded as appropriate for the diagnosis of depression.
The researchers found that among the (T’ai Chi Chih) participants, 94 percent achieved a score of less than 10, with 65 percent achieving remission (a score of 6 or less). By comparison, among participants who received health education, 77 percent achieved scores of 10 or less, with 51 percent achieving remission.
While both groups showed improvement in the severity of depression, said Lavretsky, who directs UCLA’s Late-Life Depression, Stress and Wellness Research Program, greater reductions were seen among those taking escitalopram and participating in (T’ai Chi Chih), a form of exercise that is gentle enough for the elderly.
“Depression can lead to serious consequences, including greater morbidity, disability, mortality and increased cost of care,” Lavretsky said. “This study shows that adding a mind-body exercise like (T’ai Chi Chih) that is widely available in the community can improve the outcomes of treating depression in older adults, who may also have other, co-existing medical conditions, or cognitive impairment. “With (T’ai Chi Chih),” she said, “we may be able to treat these conditions without exposing them to additional medications.”
Other authors on the study included Lily L. Alstein, Richard E. Olmstead, Linda M. Ercoli, Marquertie Riparetti-Brown, Natalie St. Cyr and Michael R. Irwin, all of UCLA. Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health, the General Clinical Research Centers Program, the UCLA Cousins Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and the UCLA Older Americans Independence Center.
Reprinted from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110316131122.htm
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*The words ‘T’ai Chi Chih’ have been inserted in this article for the purposes of this blog because the original article incorrectly identifies ‘tai chi’ as the exercise used in the study. This UCLA research project specifically used T’ai Chi Chih, as have researchers in previous projects by the UCLA group. The scientific paper on which this article is based cites T’ai Chi Chih.