Physical Benefits of Qigong as exercise

Effect on Strength and Endurance

Effect of Tai Chi on muscle strength, physical endurance, postural balance and flexibility: a systematic review and meta-analysis. 

Wehner C, Blank C, Arvandi M, Wehner C, Schobersberger W. Effect of Tai Chi on muscle strength, physical endurance, postural balance and flexibility: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2021;7(1):e000817.

This paper conducted a systematic review of 31 papers, including 21 in a meta-analysis, looking at the effect of Tai Chi on muscle strength, physical endurance, postural balance and flexibility as measured by tests commonly used in health-related fitness or competitive sports contexts.The number of participants in each study ranged from 14 - 368, and a vast majority of the participants were over the age of 60. Intervention periods ranged from 3 weeks to 12 months. Most of the studies were based on Yang style forms whereas three studies included Chen, Sun, and Wu styles.

Outcomes were divided into four categories: muscular strength, physical endurance/functional capacity, postural balance and flexibility. In regards to the practice of Tai Chi, significant improvements were found in handgrip strength, walking distance during 6 minute walk test, standing time in single-leg-stance with open eyes, and thoracolumbar spine flexibility.

The authors concluded that “Tai Chi seems to moderately improve physical fitness when evaluated by tests used in health-related fitness or competitive sports. Moreover, thoracolumbar spine flexibility seems to be a factor in the improvement of postural balance. Further research is needed, including younger healthy participants performing a widely used, standardised form (eg, Peking-style routine) with high-intensity movements (eg, use of lower stances).”

Review by Dr. Joe Baumgarden

 

Part 1 Abstract

Effect of Tai Chi on muscle strength, physical endurance, postural balance and flexibility: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Christian Wehner,corresponding author1 Cornelia Blank, Marjan Arvandi, Carina Wehner, and Wolfgang Schobersberger

BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2021; 7(1): e000817.Published online 2021 Feb 5. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2020-000817   PMCID: PMC7871341 PMID: 33614126

Objective

To investigate the impact of Tai Chi training on muscle strength, physical endurance, postural balance and flexibility, as measured by tests commonly used in health-related fitness or competitive sports contexts.

Design

Systematic review and meta-analysis.

Data sources

The following databases were searched up to 31 July 2020: CINAHL, Cochrane Library, MEDLINE via PubMed and SPORTDiscus.

Eligibility criteria for studies

Inclusion: (1) Randomised controlled trials published in German or English; (2) Tai Chi used as an intervention to improve physical performance; (3) Test methods commonly used in health-related fitness or competitive sports and (4) Participants aged ≥16 years (irrespective of health status). Exclusion: (1) Studies not focusing on Tai Chi or including Tai Chi mixed with other interventions and (2) Modified or less than eight Tai Chi movements.

Results

Out of 3817 records, 31 studies were included in the review, 21 of them in the meta-analysis. Significant improvements in handgrip strength (2.34 kg, 95% CI 1.53 to 3.14), walking distance during 6 min (43.37 m, 95% CI 29.12 to 57.63), standing time in single-leg-stance with open eyes (6.41 s, 95% CI 4.58 to 8.24) and thoracolumbar spine flexibility (2.33 cm, 95% CI 0.11 to 4.55) were observed.

Conclusion

Tai Chi training seems to moderately improve physical fitness when evaluated by tests used in health-related fitness or competitive sports. Moreover, thoracolumbar spine flexibility seems to be a factor in the improvement of postural balance. Further research is needed, including younger healthy participants performing a widely used, standardised form (eg, Peking-style routine) with high-intensity movements (eg, use of lower stances).

Keywords: martial arts, meta-analysis, endurance, physical fitness

Summary box

What is already known?

  • Tai Chi training has positive effects on a variety of chronic diseases (eg, osteoarthritis) and health-related issues (eg, reduced risk of falling).

  • Tai Chi training exerts a positive impact not only on physical parameters, but also on mental health.

  • There is good evidence for positive effects of Tai Chi training for older people and patient populations, as most previous studies concentrated on these populations.

What are the new findings?

  • There is evidence that Tai Chi training can also moderately improve physical fitness as measured by tests commonly applied in health-related fitness or competitive sports contexts; for healthy people such tests are more relevant compared with the clinical assessment tools used for unfit and patient populations. Improvements were observed in handgrip strength, functional capacity, postural balance and thoracolumbar flexibility.

  • We hypothesize that not only slow motions of the legs and kicking movements while standing on one leg, which are characteristic in Tai Chi but also the improvement of thoracolumbar flexibility enhance postural balance.

Part 2

Abstract

Qigong exercise enhances cognitive functions in the elderly via an interleukin-6-hippocampus pathway: a randomized active-controlled trial

 Brain Behav Immun. 2021 Apr 16;S0889-1591(21)00168-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2021.04.011. Online ahead of print. PMID: 33872709 DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi.2021.04.011

Di Qi, Nichol M L Wong, Robin Shao, Idy S C Man, Clive H Y Wong, Lai Ping Yuen, Chetwyn C H Chan, Tatia M C Lee 

Background: Evidence has suggested that exercise protects against cognitive decline in aging, but the recent lockdown measures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have limited the opportunity for outdoor exercise. Herein we tested the effects of an indoor exercise, Qigong, on neurocognitive functioning as well as its potential neuro-immune pathway.

Methods: We conducted a 12-week randomized active-controlled trial with two study arms in cognitively healthy older people. We applied Wu Xing Ping Heng Gong (Qigong), which was designed by an experienced Daoist Qigong master, to the experimental group, whereas we applied the physical stretching exercise to the control group. The Qigong exercise consisted of a range of movements involving the stretching of arms and legs, the turning of the torso, and relaxing, which would follow the fundamental principles of Daoism and traditional Chinese medicine (e.g., Qi). We measured aging-sensitive neurocognitive abilities, serum interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels, and brain structural volumes in the experimental (Qigong, n= 22) and control groups (stretching, n = 26) before and after the 12-week training.


Results: We observed that Qigong caused significant improvement in processing speed (t (46) = 2.03, p = 0.048) and sustained attention (t (46) = -2.34, p = 0.023), increased hippocampal volume (t (41) = 3.94, p < 0.001), and reduced peripheral IL-6 levels (t (46) = -3.17, p = 0.003). Moreover, following Qigong training, greater reduction of peripheral IL-6 levels was associated with a greater increase of processing speed performance (bootstrapping CI: [0.16, 3.30]) and a more significant training-induced effect of hippocampal volume on the improvement in sustained attention (bootstrapping CI: [-0.35, -0.004]).

Conclusion: Overall, these findings offer significant insight into the mechanistic role of peripheral IL-6-and its intricate interplay with neural processes-in the beneficial neurocognitive effects of Qigong. The findings have profound implications for early identification and intervention of older individuals vulnerable to cognitive decline, focusing on the neuro-immune pathway. The trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov (identifier: NCT04641429).

Keywords: Aging; Cognition; Gray matter volume; Hippocampus; Interleukin-6; Qigong.






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