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Can Tai Chi Boost Your Immune System?

By Violet Li

In the west, immunology has been studied for 2500 years. Due to the complexity, it is hard to pinpoint how the immune system works and how they can be improved. According to Harvard Medical School, there is still much that researchers don’t know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response. However, in recent research, scientists have proven that practicing Tai Chi can increase the immunity level in some cases.

Photos Courtesy of Violet Li

Tai Chi Chuan (boxing) is an ancient Chinese martial art as well as a healing art. Its philosophical root dates back thousands of years ago from the Book of Changes (or I Ching). Tai Chi encourages better blood circulation, which will allow the body to better defend itself from the invasion of pathogens.

Dr. Michael Irwin of University of California – Los Angeles conducted a research study that found that after 25-weeks of Tai Chi practice, older adults’ immunity against shingles was slightly higher than people who did not practice Tai Chi but got shingles vaccinations. Combining Tai Chi practice and vaccination, the seniors’ immunity index was twice as high as vaccination alone, the same level of people 30 years younger.

The Chinese Culture University in Taiwan found that Tai Chi Chuan increased circulating myeloid dendritic cells which are antigen-presenting cells of the immune system.

Chang Gung University in Taiwan found that regular Tai Chi Chuan exercise enhances functional mobility and important T cells in the immune system. It also discovered that regular Tai Chi practice improves T cell function of patients with type 2 diabetes.

If that wasn’t enough, even Dr. Oz’s personal trainer Donovan Green and world Kung Fu champion Master Karl Romain endorse taking Tai Chi for developing a stronger immune system.

From a western scientific standpoint, it’s difficult to explain exactly why and how Tai Chi affects our immune system. Dr. Peter Wayne, Assistant Professor of Harvard Medical School and author of the Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, comments with many active ingredients—movement, breathing, attention, visualization, and rich psychosocial interactions, Tai Chi is a multicomponent intervention.

Aside from boosting immune system function, Tai Chi has been clinically proven to cure diseases or relieve problems ranging from hypertension to Parkinson’s disease. University Kebangsaan in Malaysia found that long term Tai Chi exercise reduces DNA damage and increases immune system’s lymphocyte apoptosis and proliferation in older adults.

As winter approaches, there is no better time to start Tai Chi than now. Many health clubs (e.g. YMCA) and martial art studios offer Tai Chi classes. There are also certified Tai Chi instructors to study with. For beginners, try a short and easy form first. Even though a Tai Chi routine seems incredibly simple it is not easy to do it right unless you pay close attention during classes. Tai Chi is a mind-body-breathing exercise. For most forms, Tai Chi is a low impact aerobic regimen. Some people quit after a few trials because they did not sweat during practice nor did they feel anything. Unlike other exercise, Tai Chi is no pain but all gain. Through slow movement, Tai Chi fundamentally transforms our body and increases the immunity.

The author practicing Tai Chi.

Violet Li is an award winning journalist, a 12th generation Chen Style Tai Chi (Taiji) Inheritor, an indoor disciple of Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, certified Tai Chi instructor, and certified Heart Zone Trainer. She has taught Tai Chi, Qigong and other fitness programs to various demographic groups. She is a columnist on Tai Chi and Qigong for www.examiner.com and Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine.

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