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PULSE TAI CHI CAN KEEP SENIORS FREE OF SHINGLES.

Byline: Mariko Thompson

Tai chi classes have become a popular recreational offering at senior centers everywhere. Now there may be compelling medical reasons to learn this combination of meditation and movement.

A new UCLA study suggests that tai chi chih (a modern, simplified form of tai chi) boosts immunity in the elderly against shingles, a painful rash caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus. Earlier this year, late-night TV host David Letterman put the spotlight on the debilitating condition when shingles forced him to the sidelines. The risk of shingles increases with age and is more common in people over the age of 50.

In the study conducted by the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, seniors were divided into a two groups. One group took a 15-week tai chi chih class. The other served as the control group. All participants had their immunity to the virus measured before and after the class. The tai chi chih group showed a 50 percent increase in immunity, while the control group showed no improvement.

``Shingles is a significant public health problem,'' said Dr. Michael Irwin, professor of psychoneuroimmunology. ``Tai chi chih can be readily administered in groups, and it's cost-effective.''

UCLA researchers also tested the participants' physical abilities by having them do such activities as climbing stairs and lifting packages. The tai chi chih group showed the greatest improvement on the tests after 15 weeks, while the control group stayed about the same, Irwin said.

Based on the martial arts, tai chi chih has been touted for improving posture, balance and mobility, as well as reducing stress, said Roberta Taggart, a Los Angeles tai chi chih instructor. Such studies provide scientific evidence that tai chi chih is an effective tool, she said.

Researchers have yet to determine how long the benefits of tai chi chih last and whether regular practice continues to improve health over time. The study was funded by the National Institute of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

GET TONED: Aimed at women ages 35 and older, ``Strength Training for Beginners'' (Harper Resource; $21.95) by Joan Bassey and Susie Dinan not only works to build muscle but strengthen bones. This flip book starts with information on osteoporosis and how to reverse or prevent brittle bones with the help of weight training. The fitness portion includes warm-up stretches, floor exercises and a muscle-toning routine with hand weights.

INSPIRATIONAL STORIES: ``We don't get to choose whether or not we have MS, but from moment to moment we do get to choose how to live with it,'' begins Zoe Koplowitz in chapter one of ``People With MS With the Courage to Give'' (Conari Press; $16.95). The book, compiled by Jackie Waldman, tells the stories of 24 people who have refused to be defined by multiple sclerosis and have worked to make a difference in the world. Contributors include Marc Blum of Agoura, founder of Mission With Bikes, which provides used bikes to disadvantaged children. Waldman is donating the proceeds of the book to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Affecting more than 400,000 Americans, multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system.

HEAL THYSELF: Consumers have access to mind-boggling amounts of health information on the Internet. But how do you separate good information from bad? The publishers of the ``MD Net Guide'' have launched a quarterly journal that will help consumers navigate through online medical research. The journal, FM Net Guide, will be distributed to 200,000 patients in doctors' waiting rooms and is also available at www.fmnetguide.com. In addition to health stories, guidelines and tips, the journal provides physician-reviewed online listings that provide reliable health information.

CANCER RIDE: Cyclists interested in raising money for cancer research can ride with Tour de France winner and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. The 62.5-mile ride starts at 8 a.m. Oct. 11 at Universal CityWalk. The Los Angeles event is the kickoff for a week-long cross-country ride featuring Armstrong and a team of 26 cyclists. The Los Angeles portion of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Tour of Hope is open to the first 1,500 cyclists who register and raise a minimum of $500 for cancer research by Oct. 1. The 10 Los Angeles participants who raise the most money will be recognized at the closing ceremonies in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 18. To register, visit www.tourofhope.org.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1) Kiko Kiko, foreground, leads a group of seniors in a tai chi chih class at Jewish Family Service's Valley Storefront in North Hollywood. A study credits the Chinese moving meditation with combating shingles.

Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News

(2) no caption (book: ``Strength Training for Beginners'')

(3) no caption (book: ``People With MS With the Courage to Give''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 22, 2003
Words:797
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