Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Taiji and Qigong

During the last decade or more, there has been a series of Scientific investigations conducting evidence-based scientific investigations of the health benefits of Taiji and Qigong. The objective is to do experiments that can be duplicated with results that are quantitative and explanations that may be understood to a scientific audience. Although the research findings may need to be repeated in more laboratories and with larger sample sizes, we think the evidence is pretty impressive and moving us in the direction that hopefully in another 20 years or so of more research, we will have a significantly better scientific explanation of the health benefits of Taiji and Gigong.

One of the scientists who has been involved in that research Is Dr. Shin Lin of the University of California at Irvine. He is the Associate Vice Chancellor for Biomedical Initiatives and Professor of Cell Biology, Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Biomedical Engineering. He received his Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry at UCLA and postdoctoral training in Biochemistry & Biophysics at the School of Medicine of University of California, San Francisco. He is also a graduate of the Acupuncture for Physical Medicine program at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (香港理工大學) and was a Visiting Professor at the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (上海中醫藥大學客座教授) for over a decade. For many years, he served as Chairman of Biophysics at Johns Hopkins University, where he co-founded the Kreiger Mind/Brain Institute and the Cardiovascular Mechanics Research Center. He is also an expert Taiji/Qigong practitioner and a long-time (17 years) disciple of the well-known Chen Style Taiji Grandmaster Chen Zhanglei.

In several presentations given by Dr. Shin Lin, he has summarized many recent scientific findings by various research groups around the world, including his own research group at the University of California at Irvine. Reference 1 is one of his longer presentations given in January 2019. Reference 2 is a more recent and shorter presentation given in January 2021. This paper makes use of many of the research findings that Dr. Lin presented in these two references.

Summary of Recent Scientific Research Explaining the Health Benefits of Taiji and Qigong

Stretching to Reduce Inflammation:

An experiment to inject a chemical Carrageenan that causes inflammation in the lower back of mice. It has been found in the laboratory that by holding the tail of a mouse, it can keep the mouse from running away but in the process stretches the back of the mouse. When this is done repeatedly, the stretching can reduce the inflammation and pain caused by the chemical Carrageenan. For humans, such inflammation and associated pain in the lower back may be caused by lack of activities and too much sitting especially during Covid-19 when we spend a lot of time at home watching videos and participating in Zoom meetings and do not exercise sufficiently. Then doing stretching exercises, such as warm-up exercises which accompany Taiji/Qigong exercises, as well as the actual Taiji and Qigong exercises, will help to get rid of lower back and other pains due to lack of exercises.

Repetitive Motions Can Improve Bodily and Mental Functions by Increase of Serotonin:

It has been found in the laboratory that repetitive motions can increase serotonin neural activity. It has been observed in the laboratory that cats like to go through motions that appear to be grooming exercises, although the cats are doing this not looking at themselves in front of a mirror. Apparently such motion can increase the release of Serotonin, a chemical messenger that can act as a mood stabilizer. It can help to produce healthy sleeping patterns as well as boost the mood. In Taiji and Qigong there are many repetitive motions such as waving hands like clouds, brushing knee and stepping forward, or just breathing in and breathing out. Thus many such basic motions in Taiji and Qigong that are repetitive can help to increase serotonin release and thus help to regulate the mind and mood.

Deep Breathing Can Increase Serotonin Cell Activity:

In another experiment involving cats sleeping in the laboratory in a room where the CO2 concentration can be adjusted and where the serotonin level of a cat sleeping soundly can also be measured. When the CO2 level is increased from normal to 4%, the cat can stay sound asleep by increasing its breathing rate because the heavier breathing stimulates serotonin activity allowing the cat to sleep peacefully, and when the CO2 level is increased again, now to 8%, the cat can still stay sound asleep by increasing its breathing rate even higher. Thus deep breathing in some Taiji and Qigong exercises can help to reduce stress.

Taiji Increases Immunity Toward Shingles:

In one of the earlier studies of this kind in a research study led by Dr. Michael Irwin of UCLA [3], the study shows that the practice of Taiji can increase the human body’s immunity toward the Shingles virus. Furthermore, even for people who have taken the modern varicella Shingles vaccine, these people’s level of immunity to Shingles can also be boosted by practicing Taiji.

As stated by Andrew Monjan, Ph.D., chief of the NIA’s Neurobiology of Aging Branch: “Dr. Irwin’s research team has demonstrated that a centuries-old behavioral intervention, Tai Chi, resulted in a level of immune response similar to that of a modern biological intervention, the varicella vaccine, and that Tai Chi boosted the positive effects of the vaccine.” Dr. Irwin’s research has shown that the probability of the people who did not receive the Shingles vaccine but practice Taiji is higher than the people who received the Shingles vaccine but did not practice Taiji. Furthermore, these people (with average age of 70) who practice Taiji after they received the Shingles vaccine have immunity that is even higher than those who have received the Shingles vaccine but are 30 years younger and did not practice Taiji. Many more research findings in the last 15 years or so have found scientific evidence of the health benefits of Taiji in many other areas of health. [3]

Taiji Can Enhance Bone Health and Increase Bone Density:

Because some Taiji exercises are weight-bearing exercises that can put stress on the body and creates vibration of the bone structure. Recent research studies at the lab have shown that such activities can increase the bone density and increase the health of the bones. That is why certain Taiji exercises, especially those associated with Chen-style Taiji, or certain warm-up exercises such as Qigong paida exercises when one self pats certain parts of the body can increase the bone density and the overall health of the bones.

Taiji Provides Better Connectivity Between Short-Term Memory and Long-Term Memory:

Short-Term Memory (STM) is controlled by the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC) part of the brain and Long-Term Memory (LTM) is controlled by the Hippocampus part of the brain. These two parts of the brain are analogous to the computer’s Random Access Memory (RAM) and the computer’s Hard Drive (HD). Having better connectivity between these two different parts of the brain means that one will be able to think faster (or the computer will be able to do faster processing and computing by having better connectivity between the RAM and the HD. Recent research findings using electrode measurements on different parts of the brain show that there is better connectivity for the Taiji practitioners between the PFC and the Hippocampus parts of the brain, thus speeding up the transfer of information between STM and LTM. Thus, such research has shown that Taiji can help our memory by better connecting our STM and LTM.

Gaining Physical Strength by Doing Exercises Via the Mind:

There is a surprise research finding of comparing one group of people doing lifting exercises with another group of people going through the mental process of doing such lifting exercises. It is found that the first group of people observes an increase of about 30% in the weights that they can lift. But to people’s surprise, there is also an increase of about 20% in the second group of people in the weights that they can lift. However, the strength of the arm of the 2nd group of people doing the imaginary lifting has not increased, but there is significantly more brain activities in this second group of people that apparently gave rise to their ability to lift more weights. So the involvement of the mind’s activities could be mysteriously tied to our physical exercises. This is very intriguing and needs to be repeated with more analysis.

Observation of Brain Wave Patterns While Performing Taiji:

By connecting electrodes to skeletal muscles, we can generate diagrams called electromyograms that show us our Theta waves (4-8 HZ), Alpha waves (8-13 HZ), and Beta waves (13–30 HZ), which respectively are indications of brain waves shown while we are in deep relaxation, in periods of calmness, or in periods of awake but alert. When one is on alert (or aroused and actively engaged in the mind on a problem, the person’s brainwave is Beta. When one is non-aroused and is taking time out to reflect or meditate, the person’s brainwave is Alpha. When one is in deep relaxation or daydreaming, the person’s brainwave is Theta. Finally, when a person is in a deep dreamless sleep, the person’s brainwave is Delta (1-3 HZ). Taiji practitioners when connected to electromyograms display all three 3 types of Theta, Alpha, and Beta brain waves. This means that the Taiji practitioner is partially in a deep relaxation mode, in a calm mode, and at the same time in an alert mode. That means that he/she can be deeply relaxed, calm, but also alert, which is almost an ideal state for someone to be in while engaging in physical exercise, but with the body and mind still relaxed and calm, and is aware of possible emergencies.


In the last 20 years or so, many research findings from laboratories in the U.S. and around the world have provided much new evidence why ancient practices like Taiji and Qigong are still being practiced all over the world by so many people. These findings are helping us to understand and establish a scientific basis for these ancient practices. With these new research findings, we can understand better both the old and the new, and adjust the understanding of each as appropriate. These more recent research findings summarized by Professor Shin Lin have provided us a better physiological understanding of the benefits of Taiji and Qigong besides showing there is a correlation between doing Taiji/Qigong and health benefits. These findings give us more motivation to do exercises like Taiji and Qigong.

Later when I find the technical journals that published these research findings, I will update this article with references to those technical journals.

[1] Dr. Shin Lin, presentation on “Tai Chi & Qigong: Science, Medicine, and Health 2019”, January 18, 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaglNxKz40s.

[2] Dr. Shin Lin, presentation during the “International Congress for Qigong/Tai Chi/TCM,” January 1-8, 2021: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iKK-ZjC69c.

[3] “Tai Chi Boosts Immunity to Shingles Virus in Older Adults, NIH-Sponsored Study Reports,” National Institutes of Health News Releases, April 6, 2007: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/tai-chi-boosts-immunity-shingles-virus-older-adults-nih-sponsored-study-reports.

[4] For a recent summary of such work up to 2019, see, e.g., Don M. Tow, “Health Benefits of Taiji,” Qi:  The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health & Fitness, Volume 29, No. 3, Autumn 2019, pp. 20-28.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to RSS Feed

Discover more from Don Tow's Website

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading