Tai chi chih, the Westernized version of the 2,000-year-old Chinese martial art characterized by slow movement and meditation, significantly boosts the immune systems of older adults. And researchers are making robots that move more efficiently by teaching them tai chi.

The immune systems’ defenses against the painful, blistery rash known as shingles, which is the adult version of Chicken Pox, were stronger in a group of over 100 adults, ranging in age from 59 to 86, who practiced tai chi. If tai chi strengthens the immune system, it may explain why it is so popular in China.

Researcher Michael Irwin says, “These are exciting findings, because the positive results of this study also have implications for other infectious diseases, like influenza and pneumonia. Since older adults often show blunted protective responses to vaccines, this study suggests that tai chi is an approach that might complement and augment the efficacy of other vaccines, such as influenza.” If there’s a bird flu epidemic in our future, all of our defenses against it may come from China!

In LiveScience.com, Charles Q. Choi reports that engineers are trying to create more graceful and effective robots that can take over human chores. Since many of these tasks require smooth, coordinated movements, they are planning to program them to do tai chi.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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