Researchers have shown that people who practiced the Oriental art of Qigong – which combines gentle exercise with breathing techniques, meditation and visualisation – reaped considerable benefits during the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong.

"We were already studying the health benefits of this very popular therapy when SARS – severe acute respiratory syndrome – hit Hong Kong" explains lead author Judy Yuen-man Siu, who carried out the research in the Department of Anthropology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. "Because our study had already been established, we were able to extend it to monitor how people harnessed Qigong, which was used by many Hong Kong people during the crisis."

The study looked at 98 people who had enrolled before the SARS outbreak and 70 who enrolled after the disease hit Hong Kong. Three classes were observed for four months before the SARS crisis and for another four months during the outbreak. All the participants – who were suffering from chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, musculo-skeletal problems, cancers and kidney disease – continued practising during the outbreak. None were infected.

Participants saw Qigong as the most "legitimate" of the alternative therapies available to them. It provided gentle exercise at a time when they were getting older and their health was deteriorating. They felt Qigong was more effective than biomedicine, especially when they saw little improvement in their condition using conventional methods. Qigong provided a way of coping with the emotional burden of being discriminated against during the SARS crisis, when chronically ill people were seen as a high risk group.

"We believe that this study provides a valuable insight into how chronically ill people cope in epidemic conditions and provides healthcare professionals with important pointers for dealing with the special needs of chronically ill people during future outbreaks," concludes Siu.; Source: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.