Improve Health with Tai Chi or Qigong
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“The health benefits from Qigong and Tai Chi comes about both by supporting the body’s natural tendency to return to balance and equilibrium and also gently yet profoundly creating strength, flexibility and balance in the muscles and joints through gentle flowing movements. This is the winning combination: body and mind.” – Denise Nagel
Qigong and Tai Chi have been practiced for thousands of years with benefits for health and longevity. Qigong and Tai Chi trainings are designed to enhance function and regulate the activities of the body through regulated breathing, mindful concentration, and gentle movements. Only recently though have the effects of these practices been scrutinized with empirical research. This research has found that they are effective for an array of physical and psychological issues. They appear to strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation and increase the number of cancer killing cells in the bloodstream, improve cardiovascular health, reduce arthritis pain, improve balance and reduce falls. They also appear to improve attentional ability and relieve depression.
Qigong and Tai Chi are complex practices embedded in the complexities of life. Research has not begun to address what components of these practices interact with which aspects of health behavior to improve overall well-being. In today’s Research News article “Curriculum, Practice, and Diet Predict Health Among Experienced Taiji and Qigong Practitioners.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4761851/, Komelski and colleagues surveyed on the web Tai Chi practitioners with at least 4 years of practice experience to investigate the components of the practice that are most associated with health.
The participants answered questions concerning their general health, They measured the frequency of the Tai Chi practice and its’ complexity by the number of four different components included in the participants practice including; (1) stillness practices, (2) iterative practices, such as a mantra, (3) choreography, sequential Tai Chi movements; and (4) partner and prop training. They also measured self-reported diet quality on a scale from ”“poor” indicated daily intake of fast foods, junk foods, and frequent overeating and “excellent” indicated a diet composed mostly of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy sources of protein and calcium, whole grains, rare consumption of fast or junk foods, and infrequent overeating.”
They found that the higher the frequency and complexity of the Tai Chi practice and the diet quality the higher the health status of the practitioners. But there were also interactions found between the factors. In particular, when practice frequency was high, its complexity did not matter as a predictor of health status, but when practice frequency was low, the lower the complexity, the worse the health status. In addition, when diet quality was low, practice complexity did not matter as a predictor of health status, but when diet quality was high, the greater the complexity, the better the health status.
Remarkably, even though there was a wide range of participant ages, from 24 to 83 years, there was no relationship found between age and health status. Obviously, as people get older there are generally more health problems, but not in this sample of Tai Chi practitioners. This may indicate that Tai Chi practice counteracts the negative effects of aging on health. Indeed, research suggests that Tai Chi practices reduced the cognitive decline, decline in balance, increased blood pressure, and brain deterioration with aging. But, it is also possible that since the participants self-rated their overall health they may have been rating it against their expected health for their age.
These findings are interesting but must be interpreted cautiously as these were correlative results and causation cannot be concluded. The results do, however, provide some insights into the relationships of the components of Tai Chi practice with the participants health, the more time practice occurred each week and the more complex the practice the better the health of the practitioner. This suggests that Tai Chi practice may have cumulative effects where the more practice of more components of practice the better the health outcomes particularly when the diet is healthy.
So, improve health with tai chi or qigong.
“Qigong emphasizes the whole body, whole system health. While it is true that qigong will often cure specific ills, this is not the primary reason for practice. It is not only a matter of adding years to your life, but life to your years.” – Annie Bond
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Komelski, M. F., Blieszner, R., & Miyazaki, Y. (2016). Curriculum, Practice, and Diet Predict Health Among Experienced Taiji and Qigong Practitioners. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 22(2), 154–159. http://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2015.0071
Objective: To explore the potential influence of curriculum, frequency of practice, and dietary quality on the health of experienced Taiji and qigong practitioners.
Design: Theoretical and cross-sectional study.
Methods: Responses from a volunteer sample of Taiji practitioners from across the United States were collected using an online survey. The instrument was designed to collect data on health-related quality of life, diet, and Taiji practice regimens. All experienced (≥4 years) practitioners (n = 94; mean age, 55.82 years [range, 24–83 years]) were included in the analysis. Relationships among self-reported health, diet, experience, practice frequency, and curricular complexity were analyzed.
Results: Practitioners’ health status did not show the typical negative association with age and was positively associated with complex curricula, practice, and high-quality diets. Significant interaction effects were seen between (1) curricular complexity and additional practice (p < 0.05) and (2) curricular complexity and diet (p < 0.05).
Conclusions: Intervention designers, Taiji teachers, and practitioners should consider the potential influence of curricula, out-of-class practice, and healthy diets for optimizing health-related gains and minimizing age-related losses in interventions and community-based programs.