Tai Chi and Qi Gong: What You Need to Know

What Are Tai Chi and Qi Gong? 

Tai chi and qi gong are centuries-old, related mind and body practices. They involve certain postures and gentle movements with mental focus, breathing, and relaxation. The movements can be adapted or practiced while walking, standing, or sitting. In contrast to qi gong, tai chi movements, if practiced quickly, can be a form of combat or self-defense. 

What the Science Says About the Effectiveness of Tai Chi and Qi Gong 

Research findings suggest that practicing tai chi may improve balance and stability in older people and those with Parkinson’s, reduce pain from knee osteoarthritis, help people cope with fibromyalgia and back pain, and promote quality of life and mood in people with heart failure and cancer.  

There’s been less research on the effects of qi gong, but some studies suggest it may reduce chronic neck pain (although results are mixed) and pain from fibromyalgia. Qi gong also may help to improve the general quality of life. 

Both also may offer psychological benefits, such as reducing anxiety. However, differences in how the research on anxiety was conducted make it difficult to draw firm conclusions about this. 

Falling and Balance 

Exercise programs, including tai chi, may reduce falling and the fear of falling in older people. Tai chi also may be more effective than other forms of exercise for improving balance and stability in people with Parkinson’s disease. 

For Pain (knee osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic neck pain, back pain) 

There’s some evidence that practicing tai chi may help people manage pain associated with knee osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage in the knee that allows leg bones to rub together), fibromyalgia (a disorder that causes muscle pain and fatigue), and back pain. Qi gong may offer some benefit for chronic neck pain, but results are mixed. 

For Mental Health and Cognitive Function 

While a range of research has suggested that exercise helps reduce depression and anxiety, the role of tai chi and qi gong for these and other mental health problems is less clear. However, there is evidence that tai chi may boost brain function and reasoning ability in older people. 

For Quality of Life 

Much research suggests that physical activity enhances quality of life. Health providers who treat people with cancer often recommend exercise to reduce illness-related fatigue and improve quality of life. Some studies also suggest that physical activity helps people with heart disease and other chronic illnesses. 


Research results indicated that practicing qi gong may improve quality of life, mood, fatigue, and inflammation in adults with different types of cancer, compared with those receiving usual care. However, the researchers suggested that the attention received by the qi gong participants may have contributed to the positive study findings. 

Heart Disease 

Regular practice of tai chi may improve quality of life and mood in people with chronic heart failure, according to a 2011 clinical trial. 

Results from a small study suggested that practicing tai chi improved the ability to exercise and may be an option as cardiac rehabilitation for people who have had a heart attack. 


A 2010 research review examined the effects of tai chi and qi gong on the quality of life of adults who were healthy, elderly, were breast cancer or stroke survivors or had a chronic disease. The analysis suggested that practicing tai chi or qi gong may improve the quality of life in healthy and chronically ill people. 

What the Science Says About Safety of Tai Chi and Qi Gong 

Tai chi and qi gong appear to be safe practices. One scientific review noted that tai chi is unlikely to result in serious injury, but it may be associated with minor aches and pains. Women who are pregnant should talk with their health care providers before beginning tai chi, qi gong, or any other exercise program. 

Training, Licensing, and Certification 

Tai chi instructors don’t have to be licensed, and the practice isn’t regulated by the Federal Government or individual states. There’s no national standard for qi gong certification. Various tai chi and qi gong organizations offer training and certification programs—with differing criteria and levels of certification for instructors. 

More To Consider 

  • Learning tai chi or qi gong from a video or book does not ensure that you’re doing the movements correctly or safely. 
  • Ask a trusted source (such as your health care provider) to recommend a tai chi or qi gong instructor. Find out about the training and experience of any instructor you’re considering. 
  • Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care. 

Source: The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health