The Evidence


From the August. 4th, 2002 Health News Digest

The Perfect Exercise?

By Bill Douglas

Taiji & Qigong have exploded across the media landscape recently.  Time Magazine in an article on Taiji benefits called Taiji “the perfect exercise.”  While The Wall Street Journal recently did a front page lifestyle story entitled “[Qigong] The Next Yoga: A Sweat Free Workout – Tiger Woods’ Secret Weapon?”

So, why all the buzz on Taiji & Qigong?  Partly because today’s high stressed fast moving population is seeking, not only health & fitness, but serenity.  Serenity may sound superficial in today’s busy world, but that aspect of Taiji, may be why it is increasingly utilized in healthcare, corporate wellness, education, and even in prison and drug rehabilitation programs.

The current hubbub about Taiji & Qigong may be that we are only now seeing the breaking of a tsunami wave of growing evidence unearthed by western medical research that has been quietly building for the last decade.  Qigong is a Traditional Chinese medical/health practice that directly translated means “breathing exercise,” or “energy exercise.”  Taiji is a sophisticated form of moving qigong, which involves a series of choreographed movements done in a relaxed and flowing way.  Both have gained increasing attention by western medical researchers in the last decade that has been gaining steam, and resulted in more research dollars going toward discovering their benefits. The National Institute of Mental Health has increased funding to further research these ancient, yet modern, health techniques.

A couple of such study’s findings, one a ten year study through Harvard, Yale, and Emory Universities, stunned researchers when they discovered that the gentle, slow, relaxing, low impact Taiji improved the balance of practitioners profoundly, reducing their risk of falling by 47.5%.  Another found that Taiji offered significant cardiovascular benefits, roughly the same benefits as moderate impact aerobics.  Yet, another study sited in the Hawaii Medical Journal asserted that Taiji increased breathing capacity and relieved back and neck aches in practitioners.

The pain relief and low impact aspects of Taiji was good news for everyone, but offered even more hope for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA).  Taiji, being a weight bearing exercise, offered the potential advantages of stimulating bone growth and strengthening connective tissue.  The only concern was if they (RA sufferers) could handle a weight bearing exercise without exacerbation of joint symptoms.  The American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation reported on a study that found RA sufferers practicing a specially tailored form of Taiji suffered “no” significant exacerbation of joint symptoms.  This was great news, not just for RA sufferers but for all maturing baby boomers looking for a health regimen that is kind to the joints.

Surprisingly, given its gentle nature, Taiji burns a significant amount of calories as well, 280 per hour.  To understand how significant this is, realize that down-hill skiing burns about 350 per hour.  Yet, Taiji is gentle enough to be done in business clothes in the office without even breaking a sweat.  Which is one reason Taiji and Qigong are increasingly being used in corporate wellness programs.  However, there are perhaps even more important reasons Taiji is being used, not only in corporate wellness, but health care, education, and even prisons and drug rehabilitation institutions.

Taiji provides a grouping of benefits that helps: reduce productivity losses in employees; may reduce health care costs preemptively; enable students to focus; and also empower those rehabilitating from drug abuse, etc;. to evolve more healthy productive lifestyles.  This is the result of mood homeostasis Taiji practice fosters. The Journal of Psychosomatic Research reports a Taiji study’s findings, “[Test Subjects] reported less tension, depression, anger, fatigue, confusion and state-anxiety; they felt more vigorous, and in general they had less total mood disturbance.

Given that 70 to 85% of illness’ sending patients to the doctor are rooted in unmanaged stress, and that U.S. business is estimated to be losing upwards of $300 billion annually due to unmanaged stress, Taiji’s potential mood-stabilizing benefits are gaining increasing attention.  Also in education, the rise in ADD and ADHD symptoms in our nation’s youth, has peaked interest in Taiji by some education professionals.  This may be partly due to a recent study from the University of Miami School of Medicine finding that Taiji provided substantial symptom reduction in students suffering from Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)..

In light of the multi-dimensional benefits these ancient health practices offer, which are now being validated by modern health research, Time Magazine’s description of Taiji as “the perfect exercise,” may be a very accurate description for this ancient mind/body health technique.


Bill Douglas is the Founder of World T’aiji & Qigong Day (celebrated annually in 60 nations, and recognized by the United Nations World Health Organization).  He is the author of the internationally best selling Taiji book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to T’ai Chi & Qigong.

More Evidence

Archives of Internal Medicine, “A Systematic Review of the Affects of Tai Chi on the Health Outcomes in Patients with Chronic Conditions.”  March 8, 2004

Chen, K.M. and Snyder, M., “A Research-Based Use of Tai Chi/Movement Therapy as a Nursing Intervention.”  Journal of Holistic Nursing, 17 (3):267-79, September, 1999.

Choy, P.C.K., “Chi Exercises for Health and Rejuvenation.” Positive Health, Issue 18:30-32, April 30, 1997.

Farrell, S.J., Ross, A.D.M. et al, “Eastern Movement Therapies.” Complementary Therapies in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 10 (3):617-29, August, 1999.

Sancier, K.M., “Medical Applications of Qigong.”  Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 2(1):40-46, January 31, 1996.

Taylor, S. Kelly, “Tai Chi for Chronic Pain and Arthritis.”  Techniques in Orthopaedics, ISSN: 0885-9698, March, 2003

Whyte, N., “Tai Chi for Clients in Cardiac Rehabilitation.” OT Practice, pgs. 38-41, October, 1997.