CTQS June 2017 Newsletter Article

Study Finds Traditional Chinese Exercises Effective for Managing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

by Patrick Dillon and Matthew Komelski, Ph.D.
© 2017 Center for Taiji & Qigong Studies: all rights reserved

Authors Patrick Dillon (left) and Matthew Komelski playing push-hands at summer camp.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive condition that primarily affects middle-age and older adults by reducing airflow and tolerance to activity. COPD is a major cause of disability and death across the globe. Rehabilitative effects of traditional Chinese exercise (TCE) on COPD have been mixed and inconclusive, owing to small sample sizes of individual clinical trials. A recent study published by the open access journal, PLoS One, now provides stronger evidence that TCEs, including Taijiquan and Qigong, are effective for managing stable COPD.

The authors systematically sifted through 232 articles published in English or Chinese to identify randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that investigated effects of TCEs on lung function, mobility, and quality of life in persons with stable COPD. Ten RCTs met their criteria for inclusion and methodological quality. Results of the ten RCTs were pooled together in a meta-analysis, a “re-crunching” of the numbers, which in effect increases overall sample size, and provides a statistically stronger approach than what the selected trials offered individually.

According to the systematic review and meta-analysis, those who participated in a TCE for periods ranging from 6 to 48 weeks reaped benefits comparable to those seen with conventional treatments, including statistically significant improvement in a measure of mobility (distance covered during a 6-minute walk test), and in two measures of lung function. Quality of life also improved, marked by less fatigue, less shortness of breath, and greater sense of mastery. Although the study strengthens the claim that TCEs are effective interventions for stable COPD, the authors called for larger and higher-quality RCTs, with a wider array of relevant outcome measures, to better evaluate the claim.

The study’s results have implications for Tai Chi and Qigong instructors. As the proportion of older adults is expected to continue rising in many parts of the world, Tai Chi and Qigong instructors are more likely to serve communities with increasing rates of COPD, particularly in regions with high rates of smoking and/or air pollution. By offering an accessible and effective way to manage COPD, Tai Chi and Qigong instructors could potentially help meet this growing need.


Luo, X., Zhang, J., Castelberg, R., Wu, T., Yu, P., He, C., & Wang, P. (2016). The Effects of Traditional Chinese Exercise in Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Meta-Analysis. PLoS One, 11(9), e0161564.

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©2017 Center for Taiji & Qigong Studies.