Slow Down to Stay Strong

19 September, 2012

Think your immune system's not tough enough? Try tai chi.

When it comes to health, the slow, graceful movements of this low-impact exercise are deceptively powerful. The latest benefit: improved resistance to viruses, such as the one that causes painful shingles.

Watch people doing tai chi -- you've probably seen them in the park -- and it's instantly obvious that the deliberate, fluid moves work on balance, body alignment, and concentration. But multiple studies also have linked tai chi to better cardiovascular function, lower blood pressure, and improvements in energy, stamina, and healing. What's more, the researchers who uncovered tai chi's immune-boosting effects also found that people with physical limitations (such as heart or hip problems) made startling gains in their overall physical functioning after doing tai chi 3 times a week for 15 weeks. Study participants practiced a Westernized form known as tai chi chih, a variation that involves 20 relaxed, continuous movements.

If you're interested in tai chi, books and tapes are available to guide you through the motions, and classes are offered at a variety of places, from the local Y to upscale gyms.

SOURCES: Effects of a behavioral intervention, Tai Chi Chih, on varicella-zoster virus specific immunity and health functioning in older adults. Irwin, M. R., Pike, J. L., Cole, J. C., Oxman, M. N., Psychosomatic Medicine 2003 Sep-Oct;65(5):824-830.

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