By Kevin W. Chen, PhD, MPH
As part of traditional Chinese medicine practice, Qigong refers to the mind-body exercises that integrate breathing, mind, and body adjustments into one. Although not all Qigong forms were created for healing purposes, there are many documented health benefits from different Qigong practices, and heart health is one of the well-studied areas. In this short blog, I would like to summarize the known benefits of Qigong practice for heart health based on scientific literature.
Reduction of hypertension and balancing blood pressure
Hypertension is one of the leading causes of heart attacks and it can be challenging to treat. Two systematic reviews, in 2007 and 2015, analyzed trials of Qigong for hypertension and found that Qigong is an effective therapy for hypertension without serious adverse events.
Boost Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
Heart rate variability (HRV), the change in the time intervals between adjacent heartbeats, is directly related to the body's interdependent regulatory systems and ultimately, their efficiency and health. HRV has become an important indicator of general health, especially heart function. In general, the greater the HRV, the better your health. Studies find that drug addicts and the elderly tend to have very low HRV, while athletes and healthy youth tend to have higher HRV. How to boost people’s HRV has been a challenge in health care and research. A few studies have reported that Qigong practice could help practitioners to increase their HRV, and therefore, strengthen general health and heart function [4,5]. Even 5 minutes of daily Taiji Qigong exercise was found to improve HRV. 
Improve Cardiovascular Function
In addition to reducing blood pressure and increasing HRV, Qigong practice has also been reported to reduce heart rate and improve heart function. Yeh et al.  reported significantly improved Serum B-type natriuretic peptide levels in response to Tai Chi practice (a form of Qigong) compared to usual care controls, indicating improved left ventricular function in the heart. Participants with a history of heart failure reported significant improvements in mobility following a combined Tai Chi/Qigong intervention in comparison with the inactive control groups [7, 8]. One study showed that Qigong not only lower blood pressure, particularly in those with hypertension, but also elevated it in hypotensive (low blood pressure) patients. 
Generate Peace and Calm, and Prevent Heart Disease
In Chinese medicine, the Heart is the home of our spirit, or the spiritual aspect of the Shen (神). Although each organ carries its own emotional associations, all emotions affect heart health by disturbing its peace. Some experts believe that stress (or disturbed peace) can be associated with heart disease.
Mindfulness and meditation, which have been shown to reduce feelings of stress, are important aspects of Qigong practice. Research reported that Qigong meditation could significantly reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms [10,11], effectively manage stress, and bring peace of mind to the practitioners [12,13]. Therefore, Qigong may also bring the health benefits for the heart from the non-physical or spiritual level – peace and calm – which may be helpful in the fight against heart disease.
Improve Cardiac Rehabilitation
Qigong therapy has been widely used in rehabilitation for patients with heart disease, especially in rehabilitation hospitals in China. A recent study by Matos et al (2015) found that Qigong may act as a therapeutic measure in disease or recovery. Chan et al. (2012) reviewed 7 randomized controlled trials on Qigong exercise in cardiac rehabilitation, including 540 patients with various chronic heart diseases. These studies suggest that Chinese Qigong exercise seems to be an optimal option for patients with chronic heart diseases who were unable to engage in other forms of physical activity. Another systematic review of Tai Chi exercises (a form of Qigong practice) for patients with cardiovascular conditions concluded that Tai Chi exercise may be a beneficial adjunctive therapy for patients with cardiovascular conditions and risk factors .
A recent systematic review in Journal of the American Heart Association (2016) of Qigong exercise for cardiovascular diseases concluded that Qigong practice may effectively improve physiological outcomes, biochemical outcomes, physical function, quality of life, and depression among patients with cardiovascular disease. 
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds . Research suggests that Qigong practice could reduce symptoms of heart disease, improve the heart functions and vitality, and help the rehabilitation process for patients with heart diseases. We encourage you to get involved in your own health and healing process, and start practicing qigong.
About the Author: Kevin W. Chen, PhD, MPH
Dr. Kevin Chen is an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and president of the World Institute for Self-Healing, Inc. With Chinese origin and a life-long Qigong meditation practice, Dr. Chen is among the few scientists in the U.S. who has both extensive knowledge of Qigong as well as active involvement in Qigong and meditation research. He is the associate editor-in-chief of the English version textbook “Chinese Medical Qigong” (2010), and the publisher of Yang-Sheng, a magazine that promotes self-healing of the body, mind and spirit. Dr. Chen has extensive experience using Qigong to facilitate health and healing in people facing cancer, and have offered similar intensive Qigong training for cancer patients for many years.
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