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Qigong as a Treatment for Depression

This study was a meta-analysis discussing the possible mechanisms in which qigong may relieve depression.

Seven studies were included in their review, which showed that qigong has a significant effect on improving depression (and lowering diastolic blood pressure).

Based on the results of their review, the authors concluded that the most likely neurophysiological explanation as to how qigong helps improve symptoms of depression is through its effects on the autonomic nervous system, particularly enhancing the effects of the parasympathetic nervous system.

Summary written by Joseph Baumgarden, DPT The Neurophysiological and Psychological Mechanisms of Qigong as a Treatment for Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.

So WWY, Cai S, Yau SY, Tsang HWH. Front Psychiatry. 2019 Nov 18;10:820.


An increasing number of studies have shown the anti-depressive effect of qigong. However, its underlying mechanism remains poorly understood. This study aims to systematically review and meta-analyze existing literature on the mechanism of qigong in reducing depression.


The review process followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. Randomized controlled trials of qigong were searched from PsycINFO, PubMed, Embase, ScienceDirect, and Academic Search Premier from inception to December 2018. Studies which involved depression and any neurophysiological or psychological mechanisms as outcomes were included. Publication bias was tested before conducting meta-analysis. Two independent raters were involved for the entire review process.


A total of nine studies were identified which covered both neurophysiological and psychological mechanisms. Among these selected studies, seven were involved in meta-analysis, which suggested that qigong was effective in alleviating depression (standardized mean difference, SMD = -0.27, p < 0.05, I2 = 27%). A significant effect was also found for diastolic blood pressure (SMD = -1.64, p < 0.05, I2 = 31%). However, no significant effect was found for cortisol level and systolic blood pressure.


This review shows that qigong is effective in reducing depression through activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Future studies with higher quality of research methodology with less selection and attrition bias should be conducted to unravel the possible anti-depressive effect of qigong.

Copyright © 2019 So, Cai, Yau and Tsang.

KEYWORDS:anti-depressive; complementary and alternative medicine; depression; neurophysiological mechanism; qigong

PMID: 31824346 PMCID: PMC6880657 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00820