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      Relaxation or Regulation: The Acute Effect of Mind-Body Exercise on Heart Rate Variability and Subjective State in Experienced Qi Gong Practitioners

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          Abstract

          Mind-body exercises such as Yoga or Qi Gong have demonstrated a wide range of health benefits and hold great promise for employment in clinical practice. However, the psychophysiological mechanism underlying these effects remains unclear. Theoretical frameworks highlight regulation as a characteristic and specific mechanism of mind-body exercise for which empirical evidence is scarce. To investigate the exact nature of this mechanism, we tracked acute changes in autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity and subjective state over a common form of mind-body exercise (Qi Gong). Heart rate variability (HRV) and subjective state were assessed in 42 Qi Gong practitioners from China and Germany during a standard moving Qi Gong exercise (Baduanjin). Relaxation in supine position prior and after the exercise served as a control condition to Qi Gong and to assess changes before and after the exercise. Following Qi Gong, all practitioners reported significantly increased subjective calmness and perceived body activation, attentional focus, and subjective vitality. On the physiological level, a significant decrease of parasympathetic modulation and increase in heart rate indicated a pattern of moderate general physiological activation during Qi Gong. A significant increase in overall RR-interval modulation and cardiac coherence during Qi Gong were indicative of a mechanism of active regulation. Examination of the RR-interval trajectories revealed a rhythmic pattern of ANS activation and deactivation in sync with activating and relaxing segments of the exercise. Significant changes in subjective state, not on the physiological level, before and after the exercise were observed. Significant associations between Qi-Gong-specific beliefs, age, cultural background, and experiential and physiological measures demonstrated the complexity of mind-body exercises as multicomponent interventions. Overall, this study highlights moderate general physiological activation, exercise-dependent rhythmic ANS modulation, and induction of a characteristic state of eutonic calmness as potential psychophysiological mechanisms underlying the health benefits of mind-body exercise.

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          Most cited references 64

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          Expert and exceptional performance: evidence of maximal adaptation to task constraints.

          Expert and exceptional performance are shown to be mediated by cognitive and perceptual-motor skills and by domain-specific physiological and anatomical adaptations. The highest levels of human performance in different domains can only be attained after around ten years of extended, daily amounts of deliberate practice activities. Laboratory analyses of expert performance in many domains such as chess, medicine, auditing, computer programming, bridge, physics, sports, typing, juggling, dance, and music reveal maximal adaptations of experts to domain-specific constraints. For example, acquired anticipatory skills circumvent general limits on reaction time, and distinctive memory skills allow a domain-specific expansion of working memory capacity to support planning, reasoning, and evaluation. Many of the mechanisms of superior expert performance serve the dual purpose of mediating experts' current performance and of allowing continued improvement of this performance in response to informative feedback during practice activities.
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            An Overview of Heart Rate Variability Metrics and Norms

            Healthy biological systems exhibit complex patterns of variability that can be described by mathematical chaos. Heart rate variability (HRV) consists of changes in the time intervals between consecutive heartbeats called interbeat intervals (IBIs). A healthy heart is not a metronome. The oscillations of a healthy heart are complex and constantly changing, which allow the cardiovascular system to rapidly adjust to sudden physical and psychological challenges to homeostasis. This article briefly reviews current perspectives on the mechanisms that generate 24 h, short-term (~5 min), and ultra-short-term (<5 min) HRV, the importance of HRV, and its implications for health and performance. The authors provide an overview of widely-used HRV time-domain, frequency-domain, and non-linear metrics. Time-domain indices quantify the amount of HRV observed during monitoring periods that may range from ~2 min to 24 h. Frequency-domain values calculate the absolute or relative amount of signal energy within component bands. Non-linear measurements quantify the unpredictability and complexity of a series of IBIs. The authors survey published normative values for clinical, healthy, and optimal performance populations. They stress the importance of measurement context, including recording period length, subject age, and sex, on baseline HRV values. They caution that 24 h, short-term, and ultra-short-term normative values are not interchangeable. They encourage professionals to supplement published norms with findings from their own specialized populations. Finally, the authors provide an overview of HRV assessment strategies for clinical and optimal performance interventions.
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              A meta-analysis of heart rate variability and neuroimaging studies: implications for heart rate variability as a marker of stress and health.

              The intimate connection between the brain and the heart was enunciated by Claude Bernard over 150 years ago. In our neurovisceral integration model we have tried to build on this pioneering work. In the present paper we further elaborate our model and update it with recent results. Specifically, we performed a meta-analysis of recent neuroimaging studies on the relationship between heart rate variability and regional cerebral blood flow. We identified a number of regions, including the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, in which significant associations across studies were found. We further propose that the default response to uncertainty is the threat response and may be related to the well known negativity bias. Heart rate variability may provide an index of how strongly 'top-down' appraisals, mediated by cortical-subcortical pathways, shape brainstem activity and autonomic responses in the body. If the default response to uncertainty is the threat response, as we propose here, contextual information represented in 'appraisal' systems may be necessary to overcome this bias during daily life. Thus, HRV may serve as a proxy for 'vertical integration' of the brain mechanisms that guide flexible control over behavior with peripheral physiology, and as such provides an important window into understanding stress and health. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                Evid Based Complement Alternat Med
                Evid Based Complement Alternat Med
                ECAM
                Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM
                Hindawi
                1741-427X
                1741-4288
                2021
                8 June 2021
                8 June 2021
                : 2021
                Affiliations
                1Lab for Psychophysiology and Optical Imaging, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Hospital Tübingen, Calwerstraβe 14, Tübingen 72076, Germany
                2Department for Traditional Chinese Sports, Shanghai University of Sport, Changhai Road 399, Shanghai 200438, China
                3Department of Psychology, Division of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Eberhard-Karls University Tübingen, Schleichstraße 4, Tübingen 72076, Germany
                4LEAD Graduate School & Research Network, University of Tübingen, Gartenstraße 29, Tübingen 72074, Germany
                5Institute of Sports Science, Department of Education & Health Research, Eberhard-Karls University Tübingen, Wächterstraβe 67, Tübingen 72074, Germany
                Author notes

                Academic Editor: Arthur De Sá Ferreira

                Article
                10.1155/2021/6673190
                8208883
                34211574
                Copyright © 2021 Florens Goldbeck et al.

                This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Funding
                Funded by: Universitätsklinikum Tübingen
                Categories
                Research Article

                Complementary & Alternative medicine

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