Flight Attendants in a Qigong Meditative Movement Study Experienced Improved Endurance and Reduced Blood Pressure

Dr. Mardi Crane-Godreau

Dr. Mardi Crane-Godreau

Researchers at Dartmouth College discovered new evidence that Qigong can help to improve endurance and reduce blood pressure in older flight attendants.  “We are optimistic that we will be able to offer relatively simple self-care practices that may benefit the health of flight attendants who were exposed to tobacco smoke for years in the pre-smoking ban era. Qigong, a form of meditative movement, may be particularly helpful to those whose symptoms have been worsened by exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke during stressful events.” said Dr Mardi Crane-Godreau, senior author of the study.

Peter Payne demonstrating basic Qigong movements

Researcher, Peter Payne, demonstrating basic Qigong movements

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The results of this study, which were published on February 21st in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, are consistent with the claim that Qigong, an ancient Chinese health system, helps normalize the functioning of the respiratory, nervous and immune systems.

“Most people don’t realize that cigarette smoke affects the nervous system as well as the lungs…”

Lead author Peter Payne explained, “Most people don’t realize that cigarette smoke affects the nervous system as well as the lungs. Of course cigarette smoke damages the lungs, and can lead to COPD. Dr. Gould’s research at Penn State has shown that nicotine can also make stress responses more persistent. This can cause additional long-term health problems. You see, for flight attendants, and for first responders in general, the nervous system is very vulnerable to the damaging health effects of nicotine exposure. The autonomic nervous system can become chronically activated, which can in turn worsen the state of the lungs. We have shown that these Qigong practices can help rebalance the nervous system and reduce these over-active fight-or-flight responses, as well as improve breathing efficiency.”

Payne continued, “ What is important here is that these practices provided important health benefits without the use of medication. What’s more, we designed a special form of Qigong for this busy, high-energy group. They were able to do these practices without taking time away from their daily lives.”

The researchers worked with female flight attendants whose health was compromised by exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke prior to the airline smoking ban. Senior author Mardi Crane-Godreau pointed out, “None of the flight attendants in this study ever smoked. Their exposure to nicotine came from second-hand smoke on the flights they worked. They tend to have high blood pressure, respiratory disturbances, and autonomic imbalance—symptoms related to COPD. There is also a high risk for heart attacks in this population. This is consistent with the connection between nicotine exposure and stress that we discuss in our paper.” She added, “While we can’t change the past, Qigong practice did help restore participants to a healthy state. The four months of Qigong substantially reduced blood pressure, as well as measures of inflammation, lung health, autonomic dysfunction and anxiety.”

Thirteen Percent Increase in 6MWT Distance. Increased distance walked in the 6MWT in meters, from prior to the intervention to after the 4-month Qigong training.

Thirteen Percent Increase in 6MWT Distance. Increased distance walked in the 6MWT in meters, from prior to the intervention to after the 4-month Qigong training.

Seven Percent Decrease in Resting Systolic Blood Pressure. Decrease in resting systolic blood pressure from prior to the intervention to after the 4-month meditative movement training.

Seven Percent Decrease in Resting Systolic Blood Pressure. Decrease in resting systolic blood pressure from prior to the intervention to after the 4-month meditative movement training.

Crane-Godreau emphasized the source of funding for this innovative work. “The Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute (FAMRI) has tirelessly supported research into the effects of second-hand smoke exposure on flight attendants. Now with the results of this study, we have a low-cost path toward improved health for millions of people who have had similar exposure.”

Payne and Crane-Godreau are researchers from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.

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