A recent study showed that people with elevated blood glucose levels who participated in 12 weeks of qi-gong mind-body therapy experienced a significant decrease in insulin resistance, along with reductions in weight and waist circumference, as well as improved leg strength.

The study, “Qi-Gong Mind-Body Therapy and Diabetes Control: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” involved 16 men and 25 women with elevated blood glucose levels, ranging in age from 41 to 71. More than 80 percent of these subjects had diabetic glucose levels, whereas the others simply had elevated blood glucose levels. Among the study’s participants, more than half reported at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week.

Researchers randomly assigned 20 of the subjects to the intervention group and 21 to the control group. Those in the intervention group received three group sessions of qi-gong training per week for 12 weeks. Those in the control group received usual medical care from their general practitioners.

For the qi-gong intervention, all of the subjects were part of the same group class that was held three times each week. The same instructor, who had been teaching qi-gong exercise for more than 20 years, taught all of the classes for this study. Subjects also were given a DVD demonstrating the exercises and encouraged to practice at home for one to one-and-a-half hours on days when no qi-gong class was scheduled.

The intervention employed a style of qi-gong called KaiMai. Classes began with 28 minutes of warm-up, 30 minutes of practice and six to 28 minutes of cooling down. Class duration progressively increased from one to one-and-a-half hours throughout the 12-week study period.

Outcome measures were assessed at baseline and at the end of the 12-week study period. The main outcome measures were indicators of diabetes control, such as HbA1c, insulin resistance, fasting blood glucose and insulin, and two-hour blood glucose and insulin. The other outcome measures were potential mediators of these diabetes-control indicators: weight, waist circumference and leg strength.

Results of the research showed that, compared to the control group, subjects who completed the 12-week qi-gong intervention experienced significant decreases in weight and waist circumference, as well as a significant improvement in leg strength. These results also revealed significant between-group differences in favor of the intervention group for HbA1c, insulin resistance and fasting blood insulin after 12 weeks of qi-gong.

Further analysis confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis that the significant improvement in body weight among subjects in the qi-gong group affected the reduction in insulin resistance among these same subjects.

“A novel finding of this study was that the qi-gong intervention was a significant predictor of improvements in insulin resistance, body weight, waist circumference and leg strength,” state the study’s authors. “Importantly, reduction in body weight mediated the qi-gong intervention effect on insulin resistance.”

Authors: Xin Liu, Yvette D. Miller, Nicola W. Burton, Jiun-Horng Chang and Wendy J. Brown.

Sources: School of Movement Studies, School of Medicine and School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Originally published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2011) 41(2): 152-158.