If you’re suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, just getting out of bed is exhausting, so the idea of leaping about like Jackie Chan would seem like madness. However there is a lot more to martial arts than self-defence and keeping fit. Traditionally there is a strong philosophy and meditative aspect behind all martial arts. Research shows that the practice of some Oriental exercise systems can help people with Chronic Fatigue. Qi Gong is a traditional exercise that many martial arts experts incorporate into their practice.
What is Qi Gong?
Qi gong is an example of an exercise system that has its roots in martial arts training, Chinese medicine and philosophy. Qi Gong involves moving in a slow rhythmic wave like manner to align the body, breath and mind. Different forms of qigong developed through history and there was a certain amount of secrecy around the Qigong training which led to China banning it during the Cultural Revolution. The ban was removed in 1976, and then a new Qigong focused on healing, began to spread.
Today it is used around the world to prevent illness and help maintain good health. It has also been the focus of much research into its benefits as a therapy for different illnesses, in particular those that affect an ageing population, such as pain, high blood pressure and as a support to cancer treatments.
What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)?
CFS has been, and to a certain extent still is, a very controversial issue. The term is generally used for any form of persistent fatigue. For years many health professionals refused to acknowledge that such a condition existed and there was much confusion about the many different terms for such a condition. CFS is also known as myalgic enceophalomyelitis (ME), post viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS), systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID) and chronic fatigue immune system function syndrome (CFIDS). There are no accepted proven causes.
What are the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
According to the US Center for Disease Control, for chronic fatigue syndrome to be diagnosed the following must be true:
⇒ The patient’s fatigue must be a new issue, not a life-long symptom. The fatigue must have lasted for a minimum of six months uninterrupted. The fatigue is not cured by resting and it is not caused by any other medical problem.
⇒ The patient must have had at least four of the key symptoms.
⇒ The fatigue causes a significant reduction of previous activity levels
CFS key symptoms:
• Problems with memory and difficulty concentrating.
• Feeling ill and excessively tired after any kind of mental or physical activity
• After sleeping the patient doesn’t feel better or refreshed.
• Muscle aches and pains
• Joint aches and pains
• Frequent headaches
• Sore throats that keep coming back
• Swollen glands especially in the neck and under the arms
There are many other CFS symptoms that are not considered to be ‘key’ symptoms, but that are very common in CFS patients:
• Confusion and feeling mental ‘fog’
• Feeling dizzy and faint, problems with balance and clumsiness
• General over sensitivity – to smells, chemicals, noise, medicines, and food,. These can even result in allergies.
• Stomach and intestinal problems such as IBS, stomach pain, nausea constipation and diarrhoea.
• Problems controlling temperature, leading to night sweats and chills.
• Blurred vision, pain, itchy eyes and being over sensitive to light.
• Mood swings and feeling stuck in a Bermuda triangles of anxiety, stress and depression. Irritability and panic attacks.
Evidence that Qi gong can help reduce symptoms of CFS
The most significant studies that have investigated the benefits of Qi gong, were carried out by a group in Hong Kong. Here we report on three studies, which show improvements in mental and physical symptoms of CFS.
The first study investigated the effect of Baduanjin Qi gong on sleep, fatigue, anxiety and depression in patients with CFS. Patient volunteers were given either sixteen 90 minute Qi gong sessions over 9 weeks or put on a waiting list. Levels of anxiety and depression, sleep quality, and fatigue were assessed before the start of treatment, immediately after treatment and then 3 months after treatment. Results showed that there were significant improvements in patients perceived sleep quality as well as reduction in anxiety and depressive symptoms.
The second study also investigated the effects of Qigong on fatigue, anxiety and depression in CFS patients but the treatment involved 10 sessions of Qi gong split into two sessions a week for five weeks and this was followed by 12 weeks of home practice. Results showed that the Qi gong improved sleep quality and reduced symptoms of depression but did not affect anxiety scores.
Increased telomerase activity in CFS patients practising Qi gong
The third study also includes changes to a biochemical parameter- telomerase activity. Telomerase is an enzyme that is responsible for adding a protective piece of DNA at the end of chromosomes to ‘shield’ the important information contained in the genes. Low telomerase activity has been linked to accelerated ageing, poor health and cancer. The study investigated the effect of four months of qigong on fatigue, physical and mental functioning and telomerase activity in patients with CFS. Results showed that there was an improvement in all areas, reduced fatigue, as well as improvement in mental and physical functioning. Interestingly the telomerase activity increased and stood up to statistical analysis when compared to a control group.
Read more about Qigong and Tai chi:
Chan et al. Qigong exercise alleviates fatigue, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, improves sleep quality and shortens sleep latency in persons with chronic fatigue like illness. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med Dec 2014.
Chan et al. Effects of qigong exercise on fatigue, anxiety and depressive like symptoms of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome-like illness: a randomized controlled trial. Evid Based Complement Alternativ Med. Jul 2013.
Chan 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.