“Energy” Exercise Defeats Depression

Healthnotes Newswire (December 7, 2006)—An ancient Chinese practice involving meditation, breathing exercises, and body movements has been found to relieve depression in a new study. The practice, known as qigong (pronounced “chee gung”), is related to tai chi and has existed for centuries as a way to cultivate inner strength and relaxation, to ward off disease, and to promote longevity and well-being.

“Qigong has long been known to be beneficial to human health,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Hector W.H. Tsang of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. “It has been applied widely for conditions ranging from hypertension, muscular dystrophy, stroke, to mental disorders. There has recently been increasing evidence on the use of qigong to alleviate depression.”

Depression is a particularly challenging condition to treat when it affects older people. Professor Tsang and colleagues recruited 82 people over age 65 with diagnosed depression and assigned them to one of two groups. The intervention group practiced a form of qigong known as Baduanjin under the supervision of a trained qigong practitioner for 16 weeks, three times a week, with each session lasting 30 to 45 minutes. People in this group were also asked to practice daily on their own for 15 minutes. Following the same schedule as the intervention group, the other participants spent time reading newspapers in a group in the presence of a therapist, which the researchers expected would have no impact on their depression.

After eight weeks, those who practiced qigong experienced improved mood, self-confidence, self-esteem, personal well-being, and physical health when compared with those in the newspaper-reading group.

Qi is a fundamental concept in traditional Chinese medicine and culture. Although loosely translated as “air” or “breath” it is better understood as “life force” or “vital energy.” Some skeptics regard the very existence of qi as questionable since it cannot at present be measured by conventional scientific instruments. However, many clinical studies have demonstrated the benefits of acupuncture, tai chi, and qigong.

“Twenty-five to forty percent of elderly people are depressed,” said Professor Tsang. “Our research shows that qigong practice can reduce depression and disability while increasing psychosocial resources, such as self-confidence and a sense of well-being.”

(Int J Geriatr Psychiatry 2006;21:890–7)

Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS, is a licensed naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist, and published author. Dr. Appleton was the Nutrition Department Chair at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, has served on the faculty at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, and is a former Healthnotes Senior Science Editor and a founding contributor to Healthnotes Newswire. He has worked extensively in scientific and regulatory affairs in the supplement industry and is now a consultant through his company Praxis Natural Products Consulting and Wellness Services.

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