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Can an ancient healing therapy used thousands of years ago be effective in today’s fast pace world for reducing chronic fatigue symptoms? It can in fact—according to a recent study presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. Additional validation of its effectiveness is that it is reported that nearly 70 percent of China’s urban population is involved in the healing therapy, and its popularity in the US is growing. Qigong, the ancient Taoist art of self-healing, is a traditional Chinese medical therapy going back thousands of years that recently has been shown to reduce chronic fatigue symptoms. Translated as “life energy cultivation,” this program of gentle exercises and meditation significantly reduced fatigue scores in a randomized controlled trial.
Qigong (pronounced in English as “chee-gong”) is similar to yoga in that it combines regulation of the body, mind, and breath through gentle exercise and meditation. In addition to decreasing fatigue, the study showed that qigong also led to significant improvements in validated measures of mental and physical health and spiritual well-being.
In the randomized trial, 154 patients aged 18-55 years who met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definition of chronic fatigue syndrome (unexplained chronic fatigue of at least six months duration plus multiple other chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms) were randomized to two groups. One group participated in qigong sessions twice weekly for five weeks, with each session lasting 2 hours, along with a recommended 15-30 minutes per day of practice at home, while the control group was assigned to a wait-list.
The qigong movements consisted of 10 forms which were typically performed in the morning as well as a meditation, which simply focused on diaphragmatic breathing and was done at night before going to sleep.
Reduction in Total Fatigue Score of 39 Percent!
Subjects in the qigong group demonstrated a 39 percent reduction in their total fatigue score. Practicing qigong for at least 30 minutes on at least three days per week produced better outcomes—nearly twice as great an improvement. The more it was practiced, the study found, the better qigong lessened fatigue.
The researchers also tested some of the participants’ blood for signs of anti-aging and longevity effects of qigong. In the group practicing qigong, they found a statistically significant increase in telomerase, a cellular enzyme that protects cells’ DNA and allows for “reconstruction” of the cell’s telomeres, thus prolonging cell life. Levels of telomerase are used as an indicator of cellular aging and have been shown to be lower in individuals with high levels of life stress. Meditation has been shown in previous studies to increase telomerase.
Why Qiqong is Gaining Popularity
For many people in the U.S., qigong seems quite mysterious and hard to comprehend how it could possibly reduce chronic fatigue symptoms. After all, it is a very slow, very gentle motion; and in the West we’re taught you have to break a sweat and push the limits. But according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it works by making sure that there is no stagnation (blockage) anywhere along your body’s channels (meridians); Qigong gets the energy flowing with no obstruction. But for many in the U.S., especially seniors, the slow gentle motion is the very appeal of this therapy. Anyone can practice it, and it can be done at home without expensive equipment or clothing. With this new research coming out, there will certainly be plenty more practicing this therapy either at home or in exercise groups at the local recreation center. Qigong Institute is a good education and research resource on this emerging therapy.
This article was originally published in 2012. It is regularly updated.
 Chan JS. Effects of Qigong exercise and its dose-response relationship in reducing fatigue for patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A randomized waitlist-controlled trial. Presented at the 33rd Annual Meeting & Scientific Sessions of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. 2012 April 14. http://www.sbm.org/UserFiles/file/PaperSession34Effects.pdf.
 Ho RT, Chan JS, Wang CW, et al. A Randomized Controlled Trial of Qigong Exercise on Fatigue Symptoms, Functioning, and Telomerase Activity in Persons with Chronic Fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Ann Behav Med. 2012 Jun 27. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 22736201.
 Epel ES, Lin J, Dhabhar FS, et al. Dynamics of telomerase activity in response to acute psychological stress. Brain Behav Immun. 2010 May;24(4):531-9.
 Jacobs TL, Epel ES, Lin J, et al. Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011 Jun;36(5):664-81.