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Health Benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong

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What Are the Health Benefits of Tai Chi? continued...

Sleep. Exploring tai chi’s impact on sleep, the Oregon researchers found that tai chi participants had improved sleep quality and length. They also had fewer sleep disturbances than people in a low-impact exercise group. A UCLA study of tai chi chih, a Westernized version of tai chi, also supports claims of sleep benefits. The benefits are similar to those gained through drugs or cognitive behavioral therapy. Two-thirds of the people practicing tai chi chih had major improvements in sleep quality, compared with one-third who of those involved in health education sessions.

Shingles. A viral disease that causes a painful skin rash and blisters, shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. In a shingles study supported by the NIA and NCCAM, researchers found that tai chi prompted an immune response to the varicella-zoster virus similar to that prompted by the varicella vaccine. When combined with the vaccine, tai chi helped create even greater levels of immunity -- double those of the control group. Tai chi participants also reported improvements in function, pain, vitality, and mental health.

What Is Qigong?

Qigong -- pronounced chee gong -- is a practice that involves a series of postures and exercises -- including slow, circular movements -- regulated breathing, focused meditation, and self-massage.

There is a variety of styles, and they are classified as martial, medical, or spiritual. Some qigong styles are gentler like tai chi and can easily be adapted. Others are more vigorous like kung fu.

One unique feature of qigong is its ability to train the mind to direct the body’s energy, or chi, to any part of the body. Some believe that, when moved correctly, chi can bring your body to a natural state of balance. Qigong is believed to relax the mind, muscles, tendons, joints, and inner organs -- helping to improve circulation, relieve stress and pain, and restore health.

As with tai chi, a variety of benefits have been linked to qigong. They include:

  • Greater stamina and vitality
  • Reduced stress
  • Enhanced immune system
  • Improved cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic, and digestive function
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Less risk of falling

Practiced widely in the clinics and hospitals of China, qigong may have broad health benefits. However, most of the studies conducted on qigong are limited in scope. Many are small case studies conducted in China -- not large, randomized, controlled trials reported in peer-reviewed English-language journals.

What Are the Health Benefits of Qigong?

Some believe that as a complement to Western medicine, qigong can help the body heal itself, retarding or even reversing the effects of certain diseases linked to aging. Here are a few examples of findings from small studies showing qigong benefits:

High blood pressure. In a study lasting 20 years, patients with hypertension -- whether in the control or qigong group -- were given drugs to control blood pressure. At first, participants in both groups had a drop in blood pressure. But blood pressure in the qigong group stabilized over time. They even were able to lower their use of blood pressure drugs. By contrast, the control group had an increase in blood pressure, requiring greater use of drugs. 

Fibromyalgia. One small pilot study showed fewer symptoms and improvement in function among patients with fibromyalgia who were practicing qigong. Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that can cause widespread pain and fatigue. Larger trials are needed to confirm the results.

WebMD Medical Reference

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