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How Qigong May Help Abused Women

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September 15, 2014 -
Recently, the reports about NFL player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee have been the headline all over the news media.  The topic about women being the victims of domestic violence becomes hot again.

Abused women, who suffer from chronic psychological stress, have been shown to have shorter telomeres than never abused women.

So what are telomeres? Inside the nucleus of a cell, our genes are arranged along twisted, double-stranded molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of the chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres, which protect our genetic data, and make it possible for cells to divide.

Each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. When they get too short, the cell can no longer divide; it becomes inactive or "senescent" or it dies. This shortening process is associated with aging, cancer, and a higher risk of death. So telomeres also have been compared with a bomb fuse.

It is believed that adopting health-promoting behaviors can help to increase the activity of telomerase, an enzyme that counters telomere shortening. Qigong is an ancient Chinese mind-body integration, health-oriented practice designed to enhance the function of qi, an energy that sustains well-being.

According to the August 2014 issue of the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an assessor-blind, randomized, wait-list controlled trial was developed in Hong Kong to evaluate the effect of a Qigong intervention on telomerase activity (primary objective) and pro-inflammatory cytokines, perceived stress, perceived coping, and depressive symptoms (secondary objectives) in abused Chinese women.

A total of 240 Chinese women, aged 18 years or older, who have been abused by an intimate partner within the past three years will be recruited from a community setting in Hong Kong and randomized to receive either a Qigong intervention or wait-list control condition as follows: the Qigong intervention will comprise (i) a 2-hour group Qigong training session twice a week for 6 weeks, (ii) a 1-hour follow-up group Qigong exercise session once a week for 4 months, and (iii) a 30-minute self-practice Qigong exercise session once a day for 5.5 months. The wait-list control group will receive Qigong training after the intervention group completes the program. Upon completion of the Qigong intervention program, it is expected that abused Chinese women in the intervention group will have higher levels of telomerase activity and perceived coping and lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, perceived stress, and depressive symptoms than will abused Chinese women in the wait-list control group.

This study will provide information about the effect of Qigong exercise on telomerase activity and chronic psychological stress in abused Chinese women. The findings will inform the design of interventions to relieve the effects of IPV-related psychological stress on health. Also, the concept that health-promoting behaviors could slow down cellular aging might even motivate abused women to change their lifestyles.

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