Background: An increasing number of studies have documented the effectiveness of qigong exercise in helping people reduce psychological stress and anxiety, but there is a scarcity of systematic reviews evaluating evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) conducted among healthy subjects.
Methods: Thirteen databases were searched for RCTs from their inception through June 2013. Effects of qigong exercise were pooled across trials. Standardized mean differences (SMDs) were calculated for the pooled effects. Heterogeneity was assessed using the I2 test. The risk of bias was assessed using the Cochrane criteria.
Results: Seven RCTs met the inclusion criteria. Two RCTs suggested that qigong exercise immediately relieved anxiety among healthy adults, compared to lecture attendance and structured movements only. Four RCTs suggested qigong exercise relieved anxiety (pooled SMD = -0.75; 95% CI, -1.11 to -0.40), and three RCTs suggested that qigong exercise reduced stress (pooled SMD = -0.88; 95% CI, -1.22 to -0.55) among healthy subjects following one to three months of qigong practice, compared to wait-list controls.
Conclusions: The available evidence suggests that qigong exercise reduces stress and anxiety in healthy adults. However, given the limited number of RCTs and their methodological flaws, further rigorously designed RCTs are needed.