New work by researchers at the University of Illinois lends strength to previous research documenting the health benefits of Qigong and Taiji among older adults who practice these ancient Chinese martial-arts forms.
Qigong (chee-kung) and Taiji (tye-chee) – or Tai Chi, as it is more commonly known in the U.S. – combine simple, graceful movements and meditation. Qigong, which dates to the middle of the first millennium B.C., is a series of integrated exercises believed to have positive, relaxing effects on a person's mind, body and spirit. Tai Chi is a holistic form of exercise, and a type of Qigong that melds Chinese philosophy with martial and healing arts.
"Traditional Tai Chi training includes Qigong, but most contemporary Tai Chi researchers have omitted Qigong from their research," said visiting kinesiology professor Yang Yang. "As a result, previous researchers may not have documented all of the health benefits possible from traditional Tai Chi training."
Yang, a Tai Chi master with three decades of experience, said Tai Chi and Qigong are relatively simple, safe and inexpensive, and require no props or special equipment, making them easily adaptable for practice by healthy senior citizens.
In two studies – one quantitative, one qualitative – presented recently at the North American Research Conference on Complementary & Integrative Medicine, lead researcher Yang found that healthy seniors who practiced a combination of Qigong and Tai Chi three times a week for six months experienced significant physical benefits after only two months.
Not only did participants demonstrate noticeable improvements in laboratory-controlled tests designed to measure balance, lower body strength and stance width, a subset of participants who contributed responses in the qualitative study provided dramatic evidence of how Tai Chi and Qigong practice had also enhanced their lives from a mental, emotional and spiritual perspective.
"Seniors said, 'Now I can put my socks and jeans on just like I always used to, standing up instead of sitting down," said Yang, who published the results of the studies as his doctoral dissertation. Yang said a woman noted that she had reduced the number of strokes required to swim across the pool – from 20 to between 11 and 14. Another said she was more confident of her ability to climb the stairs to her attic.