man practising tai chi

Image by  sarcozona

It’s been a while since I talked about Traditional Chinese Medicine, so maybe it’s time I did.

There are various disciplines within Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Most famously acupuncture.  It also includes herbs and food and other things.  But today I’d like to talk about exercise.

There is a whole universe of health exercises in the chinese tradition – these are called “qi gong”.  Translating “qi gong” is difficult; it means something like ‘energy work’ the energy being connected with the air, so perhaps ‘breath work’ or, at a stretch, ‘aerobics’.  qi gong is slowly gaining acceptance in the West and is beginning to be studied.  tai chi – a chinese martial art – is also being studied.  When qi gong and tai chi are done slowly and with attention to the breath they can be very effective at reducing stress – which has huge health benefits.  So here’s some good news on the benefits of exercising in the traditional Chinese way.

1. It helps with diabetes.
After a 12 week programme of tai chi it was found that tai chi may prompt a fall in blood glucose levels, or improve blood glucose metabolism. Alternatively it may boost fitness levels and the feeling of wellbeing, which may then boost the health of the immune system.

Strenuous physical activity depresses the immune system response, but moderate exercise seems to have the opposite effect, say the authors. Tai Chi is classified as moderate exercise.

Reference. Regular Tai Chi Chuan exercise improves T cell helper function of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus with an increase in T-bet transcription factor and IL-12 production

First Br J Sports Med 2008; doi 10.1136/bjsm.2007.043562

In a separate study, a 12 week programme of Tai Chi and Qigong prompted a significant fall in blood glucose levels and significant improvements in other indicators of the metabolic syndrome (Insulin resistance-whereby cells stop responding to insulin, a condition preceding full diabetes-also improved significantly.) in 11 middle aged to older adults.

At the end of the 12 weeks the program participants had lost an average of 3 kg in weight and their waist size had dropped by an average of almost 3 cm. Their blood pressure also fell significantly, and by more than would have been expected from the weight loss alone.  Participants said they slept better, had more energy, felt less pain and had fewer food cravings while on the programme.

Reference. Preliminary study of the effect of Tai Chi and Qigong medical exercise on indicators of metabolic syndrome and glycaemic control in adults with raised blood glucose

First Br J Sports Med 2008; doi 10.1136/bjsm.2007.0454

2. It gives a boost to flu vaccination (benefits immunity)
A team of kinesiologists at the University of Illinois suggest that older adults who adopt an exercise regimen combining Taiji and Qigong may get an extra boost from their annual flu shot.

“We have found that 20 weeks of Taiji can increase the antibody response to influenza vaccine in older adults,” said the study’s lead author Yang Yang, an adjunct professor of kinesiology and community health, and a Taiji master with 30-plus years of experience as a practitioner and instructor.

Those in the exercise intervention group participated in three one-hour classes for 20 weeks, while the control group was directed to continue their regular activities for the same time period.


On average, he said, the Taiji group had much higher antibody responses to the vaccination than the control group.  However, because of the small sample size, the percentage of persons from the Taiji group that achieved protective levels was not statistically different from the control.

 “Our results . . . suggest that there needs to be a larger dedicated intervention trial with Taiji to definitively determine whether this type of behavioral intervention can improve influenza vaccine efficacy in older adults.”

3. Many Other Benefits
Other recent research, including work by Yang and Rosengren, has demonstrated improvements in quality of life, flexibility, strength, cardiovascular function, pain, balance and kinesthetic strength.

Reference:  August 2007 issue of the American Journal of Chinese Medicine






4 Comments to “Three Benefits of tai chi and qi gong”

  1. I’ve seen a lot written about qi gong lately. Thanks for sharing some of its benefits. I think I’ll have to do more research!

  2. Devin says:

    I have just started to explore qi gong the last few months, and it is so fascinating. I’m glad to see some info here and a few links I can follow up on to learn more. Thanks for writing this post, and take care.

  3. Evan says:

    Hi Maria,

    I really love qi gong. As always, the challenge is to find a good teacher – I know of one in Brisbane, Australia but nowhere else I’m afraid. I recommend Bruce Frantzis’ videos and his book Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body. His company is called Energy Arts. They have an on line store. He is fairly plodding and deliberate but very clear.

    Let me know how you go, I’d love to hear, especially if you find some good videos or books.

    Thanks for your comment.

  4. Evan says:

    Hi Devin,

    I’m glad your fascinated with qi gong. I really love it.

    As I said in the above comment I recommend Bruce Frantzis because of his remarkable clarity. I also love his easy approach.

    If you would like could you tell what qi gong you’re doing. I’d like to know.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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