Qigong, a mind-body exercise from traditional Chinese medicine, can help people with chronic fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome to have more energy and to improve mental functioning, suggests a study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine (2012; 44 , 160–70; doi: 10.1007/s12160-012-9381-6). In addition, with qigong practice came an associated increase in telomerase activity, which may shed light on the mechanism underlying the benefits of this type of exercise. Increased telomerase activity has been linked to a reduction in inflammation.
Researchers from the University of Hong Kong conducted the study to assess the effects of 4 months of qigong practice on people with chronic fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome. Investigators randomly assigned 64 adult male and female subjects aged 23–52 to either a qigong group or a control group. Qigong participants met for 2 hours twice a week for 5 weeks; their program included an introduction to traditional Chinese medicine and the mind-body connection, mindful meditation, gentle stretching and 1-hour instructor-led qigong sessions. For the next 12 weeks, participants practiced at home for 30 minutes daily. Control group members did normal activities and were asked not to join any qigong class.
Scientists collected data on severity of fatigue, physical and mental functioning, and telomerase activity (among other measures) at baseline, 5 weeks and 4 months. Data analysis showed improvements in fatigue among qigong practitioners, with physical fatigue improving more than mental fatigue. Physical functioning did not improve. Researchers suggested this may have been due to the study’s short duration, as another trial showed gains in physical functioning after 6 months. Telomerase activity improved significantly over the 4-month period.
Lead study author Rainbow T. Ho, PhD, director of the Centre on Behavioral Health at the University of Hong Kong, told IDEA Fitness Journal, “This study is the first one to provide preliminary evidence on how mind-body exercises can help improve immunity and make you feel or look younger, as telomerase is also an important enzyme that protects us from aging by guarding the shortening of telomeres during cell division. Further research is warranted, as [more studies] may give hints to the underlying mechanisms for other mind-body therapeutic approaches—in particular, those with strong physical components, such as yoga and even dance movement therapy.”