Competitive college swimmers who practiced qigong at least once per week experienced fewer upper-respiratory-tract infections (URIs) than those who did not do qigong, according to a pilot study published in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine (39 ; 461–75). URIs are common among intensively trained swimmers and can interfere with training schedules and harm performance. Qigong is a traditional Chinese health practice that aims to improve vitality and strengthen the immune system. Researchers at the University of Virginia conducted a small pilot study to assess the relationship between qigong practice and URI incidence during peak training of college athletes.
Scientists enrolled 27 members of the University of Virginia swim team in the study for 7 weeks. Data collected included weekly cold and flu symptoms, if any; health problems; medication use; and frequency of qigong practice. Data analysis showed a strong inverse relationship between practice frequency and number of cold and flu symptoms in swimmers who practiced a minimum of once per week. Swimmers who practiced qigong reported experiencing less stress before competitions and improved sleep.
This study did not identify the mechanisms underlying why the qigong practitioners experienced fewer URIs. The authors recommended more rigorous controlled trials to evaluate the protective benefits of regular qigong practice among elite swimmers.