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Health Benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong

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Tai chi and qigong are two mind-body practices that originated in ancient China. Practiced widely in China for thousands of years, both have become popular in the West. People of almost any age or condition can participate in them. Many people who practice tai chi and qigong report heightened feelings of well-being along with a variety of other health benefits.

What Is Tai Chi?

Tai chi is a type of low-impact, weight-bearing, and aerobic -- yet relaxing -- exercise that began as a martial art. As it developed, it took on the purpose of enhancing physical and mental health. Practiced in a variety of styles, tai chi involves slow, gentle movements, deep breathing, and meditation. The meditation is sometimes called "moving meditation."

Some people believe that tai chi improves the flow of energy through the body, leading to greater awareness, calmness, and an overall sense of wellness.

What Are the Health Benefits of Tai Chi?

Here’s a look at some of tai chi’s potential perks:

  • Improved strength and better balance. Oregon Research Institute found that, after 6 months, tai chi participants were twice as likely to have no trouble performing moderate to rigorous activities as nonparticipants. The benefit was greatest among those who started with the poorest health or worst function. Other research has shown a reduction in falls among people who do tai chi. Two studies sponsored by the National Institute on Aging found that tai chi exercises cut the fear of falling and risk of falls among older people. Two small sports medicine studies suggest that tai chi may improve sensitivity to nerve signals in ankles and knees, which might prevent falls.
  • Reduced pain and stiffness. People with osteoarthritis assigned to a tai chi group during a 3-month study reported less joint pain and stiffness than when they started. They also had less pain and stiffness than patients in a control group.
  • Enhanced sleep. Exploring tai chi’s impact on sleep, the Oregon researchers found that tai chi participants had improved sleep quality and length. A UCLA study of tai chi chih, a Westernized version of tai chi, also supports claims of sleep benefits. Two-thirds of the people practicing tai chi chih had major improvements in sleep quality. The benefits are similar to those gained through drugs or cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Increased immunity to shingles. Characterized by a painful, blistering skin rash, shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. In a shingles study, 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.
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