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.
"This study builds upon preliminary research funded by NCCAM and we are delighted to see this rigorous trial of Tai Chi for varicella zoster immunity come to fruition," said Ruth L. Kirschstein, M.D., NCCAM Acting Director.