Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More


Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More

Common Names

  • Chi Kung
  • Eight Brocades
  • Ba Duan Jin
  • Yan Xin
  • Wu Qin Xi

For Patients & Caregivers

Tell your healthcare providers about any dietary supplements you’re taking, such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, and natural or home remedies. This will help them manage your care and keep you safe.

What is it?

Studies show that qigong practice can have many positive effects, particularly among patients with cancer, chronic illnesses, and breathing problems, as well as older adults.

Benefits include improved lung function, mood, and quality of life, as well as reduced stress, pain, anxiety, and fatigue. It is also beneficial for overall health maintenance, particularly in older adults. Some studies have shown the amount of benefit corresponds to amount of practice.

What are the potential uses and benefits?
  • Anxiety, stress
    Clinical studies show that qigong can help reduce anxiety and stress.
  • Breathing difficulty
    Regular qigong practice can help improve lung function and breathing efficiency.
  • Fatigue
    Qigong can help reduce chronic fatigue.
  • Pain
    Qigong reduced sense of pain in patients receiving chemotherapy and in those with other chronic conditions. It may also help reduce inflammation which can cause pain.
  • Physical coordination
    Studies in various populations suggest it can improve posture, balance, and coordination to improve daily tasks like walking.
  • Mental functioning
    Qigong practice may improve cognitive function, including increased attention and processing speed in older adults.
What else do I need to know?

What Is It:

Qigong combines body movements, muscle relaxation, meditation, and breathing to improve physical, mental, and emotional health. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine principles, disturbed or blocked flow of qi can produce discomfort and illness within an individual. Free flow of qi is associated with better health. Qigong is generally considered a low-intensity exercise.

Is It Safe:

  • Qigong practice is generally safe.
  • If you are weak, particularly due to chemotherapy, consult your doctor before starting more strenuous forms of qigong practice.

Who Can Provide this Service:

Organizations such as the National Qigong Association certify Qigong practitioners. The Medical Tai Chi and Qigong Association (MTQA) is working toward an accreditation standard guideline for instructors and training institutions.

Where Can I Get Treatment:

Many hospitals as well as cancer and community centers offer qigong classes.

For Healthcare Professionals

Clinical Summary

Developed nearly 5,000 years ago in China, qigong is traditionally used for therapeutic purposes. As a mind-body practice, it integrates methods of movement, muscle relaxation, meditation, and respiratory exercise to improve physical, emotional, and psychological health.

There are many variations of qigong as well as similarities with tai chi, and they are often practiced together. Simplified versions, such as the Eight Brocades are taught to and practiced by a large number of people with minimal training. These have also been clinically studied because they have standardized movements with reproducible effects.

Qigong can help reduce

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety, stress

It can also help improve

  • Breathing
  • Mental functioning
  • Motor function

Qigong in oncology settings
Clinical studies indicate positive effects on anxiety, mood, and quality of life (1) (20) (34) (46) (52) (53), and on physical symptoms such as posture, pain, numbness, dizziness, fatigue, inflammation, and cognitive function (1) (21) (22) (37) (45) (47) (48) (53).

Qigong is generally considered a low-intensity exercise. Patients should be aware that it is not a cancer treatment, but can be practiced to help alleviate associated symptoms. Those who are weak, particularly due to chemotherapy, should consult a physician before taking on more strenuous forms of qigong (27).

In other populations
Regular qigong practice may benefit patients with hypertension (6) (14), fibromyalgia (7) (41), chronic fatigue (8), and other chronic conditions (9) (10). It may also improve respiratory function, balance, motor function, and endurance (11) (12) (13) (14) (15) (16) (17) (19) (42) (49) (50).

Oncology guidelines recommend qigong
The Society of Integrative Oncology-American Society of Clinical Oncology (SIO-ASCO) guidelines recommend qigong for treating anxiety and depression following treatment (54), and reducing fatigue during active treatment (55).

Purported Uses and Benefits
  • Anxiety, stress
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Physical coordination
  • Mental functioning
Mechanism of Action

Qigong incorporates muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, meditation, and body movements to foster a free, stabilized, and unobstructed internal flow of qi (chee), an accepted concept of vital energy force (2). Through this mind-body dynamic, qigong can play an integral role in hypothalamic activity, easing both parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems (PNS, SNS) towards homeostasis (1) (27). Lower blood pressure exhibited following qigong exercise are compatible with stabilized SNS activity (6) (14). It also modulates urinary catecholamine levels (14).

Pulmonary benefits observed are likely due to the focused, deep breathing powered by lower abdominal muscles in an area known as tantien (dawn-dee-in), considered the body’s main energy center. This places less pressure on the lungs, increases lung capacity (13), and improves ventilatory function (14) and breathing efficiency (19). The potential to reduce BMI may also be related to tantien contractions, which strengthens the waist and increases calorific consumption (12).

Neurocognitive benefits in the elderly after qigong training are associated with greater reductions in peripheral IL-6 levels and increased right hippocampal grey matter volume (51). Qigong may modify inflammation by affecting immune response via neuroendocrine factors (1) (28). Potential antidepressive effects may occur via increased adiponectin levels (39) and downregulation of hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis hyperactivity (10).

The effect of qigong on numbness in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy may be due to its stimulatory action as an upper extremity exercise, which is often recommended for post-surgery patients (21). Its positive effect on balance is attributed to improved vestibular input and wider stances (16).

Adverse Reactions

Qigong practice is generally safe.

Patients who are weak, particularly from chemotherapy, should consult a physician before taking on more strenuous forms of qigong (27).

A few cases of qigong-induced mental disorders reported in China resulted from inappropriate training and practicing extreme forms of meditation (29) (30) (31).

Practitioners and Treatments

Organizations such as the National Qigong Association certify Qigong practitioners. The Medical Tai Chi and Qigong Association (MTQA) is working toward an accreditation standard guideline for instructors and training institutions (40).

Qigong classes are offered at hospitals as well as cancer and community centers.

Dosage (OneMSK Only)
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  2. Oh B, Butow P, Mullan B, et al. Medical Qigong for cancer patients: pilot study of impact on quality of life, side effects of treatment and inflammation. Am J Chin Med. 2008;36(3):459-472.
  3. Yang Y. The relation between wuji, taiji, and qigong. Available at: http://www.centerfortaiji.com.
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  6. Lee MS, Lim HJ, Lee MS. Impact of qigong exercise on self-efficacy and other cognitive perceptual variables in patients with essential hypertension. J Altern Complement Med. Aug 2004;10(4):675-680.
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  8. 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. Oct 2012;44(2):160-170.
  9. Biesinger E, Kipman U, Schatz S, et al. Qigong for the treatment of tinnitus: a prospective randomized controlled study. J Psychosom Res. Sep 2010;69(3):299-304.
  10. Tsang HW, Tsang WW, Jones AY, et al. Psycho-physical and neurophysiological effects of qigong on depressed elders with chronic illness. Aging Ment Health. 2013;17(3):336-48.
  11. Yeh SC, Chang MY. The effect of Qigong on menopausal symptoms and quality of sleep for perimenopausal women: a preliminary observational study. J Altern Complement Med. Jun 2012;18(6):567-575.
  12. Tsai YK, Chen HH, Lin IH, et al. Qigong improving physical status in middle-aged women. West J Nurs Res. Dec 2008;30(8):915-927.
  13. Chan AW, Lee A, Suen LK, et al. Tai chi Qigong improves lung functions and activity tolerance in COPD clients: a single blind, randomized controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. Feb 2011;19(1):3-11.
  14. Lee MS, Lee MS, Choi ES, et al. Effects of Qigong on blood pressure, blood pressure determinants and ventilatory function in middle-aged patients with essential hypertension. Am J Chin Med. 2003;31(3):489-497.
  15. Yang Y, Verkuilen J, Rosengren KS, et al. Effects of a Taiji and Qigong intervention on the antibody response to influenza vaccine in older adults. Am J Chin Med. 2007;35(4):597-607.
  16. Yang Y, Verkuilen JV, Rosengren KS, et al. Effect of combined Taiji and Qigong training on balance mechanisms: a randomized controlled trial of older adults. Med Sci Monit. Aug 2007;13(8):CR339-348.
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  19. Lan C, Chou SW, Chen SY, et al. The aerobic capacity and ventilatory efficiency during exercise in Qigong and Tai Chi Chuan practitioners. Am J Chin Med. 2004;32(1):141-150.
  20. Navarro M. Qigong Improves Quality of Life in Cancer Patients. 9th International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO). Presented October 8, 2012.2012.
  21. Lee TI, Chen HH, Yeh ML. Effects of chan-chuang qigong on improving symptom and psychological distress in chemotherapy patients. Am J Chin Med. 2006;34(1):37-46.
  22. Oh B, Butow PN, Mullan BA, et al. Effect of medical Qigong on cognitive function, quality of life, and a biomarker of inflammation in cancer patients: a randomized controlled trial. Support Care Cancer. Jun 2012;20(6):1235-1242.
  23. Chen K, Yeung R. Exploratory studies of Qigong therapy for cancer in China. Integr Cancer Ther. Dec 2002;1(4):345-370.
  24. Chen KW, Shiflett SC, Ponzio NM, et al. A preliminary study of the effect of external qigong on lymphoma growth in mice. J Altern Complement Med. Oct 2002;8(5):615-621.
  25. Yan X, Li F, Dozmorov I, et al. External Qi of Yan Xin Qigong induces cell death and gene expression alterations promoting apoptosis and inhibiting proliferation, migration and glucose metabolism in small-cell lung cancer cells. Mol Cell Biochem. Apr 2012;363(1-2):245-255.
  26. Yan X, Shen H, Jiang H, et al. External Qi of Yan Xin Qigong Induces apoptosis and inhibits migration and invasion of estrogen-independent breast cancer cells through suppression of Akt/NF-kB signaling. Cell Physiol Biochem. 2010;25(2-3):263-270.
  27. Yeh ML, Lee TI, Chen HH, et al. The influences of Chan-Chuang qi-gong therapy on complete blood cell counts in breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy. Cancer Nurs. Mar-Apr 2006;29(2):149-155.
  28. Yang Y, Verkuilen J, Rosengren KS, et al. Effects of a traditional Taiji/Qigong curriculum on older adults’ immune response to influenza vaccine. Med Sport Sci. 2008;52:64-76.
  29. Lee S. Chinese hypnosis can cause qigong induced mental disorders. BMJ. Mar 18 2000;320(7237):803.
  30. Ng BY. Qigong-induced mental disorders: a review. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. Apr 1999;33(2):197-206.
  31. Xu SH. Psychophysiological reactions associated with qigong therapy. Chin Med J (Engl). Mar 1994;107(3):230-233.
  32. Oh B, Butow P, Mullan B, et al. A critical review of the effects of medical Qigong on quality of life, immune function, and survival in cancer patients. Integr Cancer Ther. Jun 2012;11(2):101-110.
  33. Oh B, Choi SM, Inamori A, Rosenthal D, Yeung A. Effects of qigong on depression: a systemic review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:134737.
  34. Chen Z, Meng Z, Milbury K, et al. Qigong improves quality of life in women undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer: results of a randomized controlled trial. Cancer. 2013 May 1;119(9):1690-8.
  35. Fong SS, Ng SS, Luk WS, et al. Effects of Qigong Exercise on Upper Limb Lymphedema and Blood Flow in Survivors of Breast Cancer: A Pilot Study. Integr Cancer Ther. 2014 Jan;13(1):54-61.
  36. Brosseau L, Taki J, Desjardins B, et al. The Ottawa panel clinical practice guidelines for the management of knee osteoarthritis. Part one: introduction, and mind-body exercise programs. Clin Rehabil. May 2017;31(5):582-595.
  37. Larkey LK, Roe DJ, Smith L, et al. Exploratory outcome assessment of Qigong/Tai Chi Easy on breast cancer survivors. Complement Ther Med. Dec 2016;29:196-203.
  38. Vanderbyl BL, Mayer MJ, Nash C, et al. A comparison of the effects of medical Qigong and standard exercise therapy on symptoms and quality of life in patients with advanced cancer. Support Care Cancer. Jun 2017;25(6):1749-1758.
  39. Chan JS, Li A, Ng SM, et al. Adiponectin Potentially Contributes to the Antidepressive Effects of Baduanjin Qigong Exercise in Women With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome-Like Illness. Cell Transplant. Mar 13 2017;26(3):493-501.
  40. Oh B, Yeung A, Klein P, et al. Accreditation Standard Guideline Initiative for Tai Chi and Qigong Instructors and Training Institutions. Medicines (Basel). Jun 8 2018;5(2):51.
  41. Jiao J, Russell IJ, Wang W, Wang J, Zhao YY, Jiang Q. Ba-Duan-Jin alleviates pain and fibromyalgia-related symptoms in patients with fibromyalgia: results of a randomised controlled trial. Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2019 Nov-Dec;37(6):953-962.
  42. Tang SK, Tse MMY, Leung SF, Fotis T. The effectiveness, suitability, and sustainability of non-pharmacological methods of managing pain in community-dwelling older adults: a systematic review. BMC Public Health. 2019 Nov 8;19(1):1488.
  43. Guo L, Kong Z, Zhang Y. Qigong-Based Therapy for Treating Adults with Major Depressive Disorder: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Mar 7;16(5):826.
  44. Rodrigues JM, Mestre M, Fredes LI. Qigong in the treatment of children with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review. J Integr Med. 2019 Jul;17(4):250-260.
  45. Lu Y, Qu HQ, Chen FY, et al. Effect of Baduanjin Qigong Exercise on Cancer-Related Fatigue in Patients with Colorectal Cancer Undergoing Chemotherapy: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Oncol Res Treat. 2019;42(9):431-439.
  46. Ying W, Min QW, Lei T, Na ZX, Li L, Jing L. The health effects of Baduanjin exercise (a type of Qigong exercise) in breast cancer survivors: A randomized, controlled, single-blinded trial. Eur J Oncol Nurs. 2019 Apr;39:90-97.
  47. Osypiuk K, Ligibel J, Giobbie-Hurder A, et al. Qigong Mind-Body Exercise as a Biopsychosocial Therapy for Persistent Post-Surgical Pain in Breast Cancer: A Pilot Study. Integr Cancer Ther. 2020 Jan-Dec;19:1534735419893766.
  48. Myers JS, Mitchell M, Krigel S, et al. Qigong intervention for breast cancer survivors with complaints of decreased cognitive function. Support Care Cancer. 2019 Apr;27(4):1395-1403.
  49. Dong X, Wang X, Jia N, et al. A comparison between Qigong exercise and cycle ergometer exercise for the rehabilitation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A pilot randomized controlled trial (CONSORT). Medicine (Baltimore). May 28 2021;100(21):e26010.
  50. Chen S, Zhang Y, Wang YT, et al. The effect of Qigong-based therapy on patients with Parkinson’s disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clin Rehabil. Dec 2020;34(12):1436-1448.
  51. Qi D, Wong NML, Shao R, et al. Qigong exercise enhances cognitive functions in the elderly via an interleukin-6-hippocampus pathway: A randomized active-controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun. Jul 2021;95:381-390.
  52. Vargas-Román K, De la Fuente-Solana EI, Cortés-Martín J, et al. Effect of a 16-Session Qigong Program in Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Survivors: A Randomized Clinical Trial. J Clin Med. Jun 14 2022;11(12).
  53. Quixadá AP, Miranda JGV, Osypiuk K, et al. Qigong Training Positively Impacts Both Posture and Mood in Breast Cancer Survivors With Persistent Post-surgical Pain: Support for an Embodied Cognition Paradigm. Front Psychol. 2022;13:800727.
  54. Carlson LE, Ismaila N, Addington EL, et al. Integrative Oncology Care of Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression in Adults With Cancer: Society for Integrative Oncology-ASCO Guideline. J Clin Oncol. 2023 Aug 15:JCO2300857. 
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