If you've been searching for a new exercise, you might try looking back 5,000 years or so—because that's about how long qigong has been around.
Qigong ("chee gong") is a traditional Chinese mind-body practice whose roots date back as far as 1122 B.C. With centuries of use to its credit, qigong is still widely practiced today in eastern and western cultures. And it's not just the everyday practitioners who find it interesting—qigong and its close relative tai chi have been studied extensively in an attempt to shed light on their reported health benefits.
Curious about what these health benefits are? We were, too—so we did some digging. Keep reading to discover what this ancient practice is and the surprising ways it could boost your physical and mental well-being.
What is Qigong?
Qigong roughly translates to "mastery of your energy." The term itself is made up of two Chinese concepts including "qi," meaning vital energy, breath, or spirit, and "gong," meaning mastery or cultivation.
As a whole, the practice of qigong seems to live up to its name. It features a system of repetitive and coordinated postures, movements, breathing and mindfulness exercises performed with the intention of optimizing physical health, body awareness, attention, and spirituality. Multiple forms of qigong exist, including some that are more rigorous and borrow moves from other martial arts practices.
Qigong is similar to tai chi, and while there's no clear consensus on where the distinction lies, the latter often includes movements recognized as qigong. Fair comparisons have also been made to yoga and other types of "moving meditation" or mindfulness practices.
7 Research-Backed Benefits of Qigong
With such a long track record, it's reasonable to assume that qigong actually works—and it turns out the science tends to back this up.
For example, a 2011 paper published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Health Promotion analyzed and compiled the results of 77 randomized controlled trials involving qigong and tai chi. The paper's authors discovered at least 7 proposed benefits of qigong, all with varying levels of supporting evidence. Potential benefits include:
- Improved bone density
- Improved heart health—including decreased blood pressure, lower resting heart rate, and improved heart rate variability (HRV)
- Increased physical strength, range of motion, and flexibility
- Reduced risk of falls and improved balance
- Increased quality of life and self-reported physical function
- Improved psychological well-being including reductions in anxiety, stress, and depression
- Improved immunity, including improved biomarkers of inflammation and immune system function
Other reported benefits of qigong include improved circulation and lymphatic flow, improved blood sugar control, better sleep, and reductions in chronic pain. Specific research is also being done to determine qigong as a complementary treatment for people with cancer.
Bonus point: qigong is super low-impact, requires no added equipment, and is considered safe for people of all ages. And while more studies need to be done to determine the ideal frequency, type, and intensity for optimal results, committed practitioners and instructors recommend making qigong a part of your daily routine, especially in the morning.