Tai Chi Increases Brain Size and Benefits Cognition in Randomized Controlled Trial of Chinese Elderly

Happy brain with "hands" up

Tampa, FL (June 19, 2012) — Scientists from the University of South Florida and Fudan University in Shanghai found increases in brain volume and improvements on tests of memory and thinking in Chinese seniors who practiced Tai Chi three times a week, reports an article published today in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Findings were based on an 8-month randomized controlled trial comparing those who practiced Tai Chi to a group who received no intervention. The same trial showed increases in brain volume and more limited cognitive improvements in a group that participated in lively discussions three times per week over the same time period.

Previous trials have shown increases in brain volume in people who participated in aerobic exercise, and in one of these trials, an improvement in memory was seen. However, this was the first trial to show that a less aerobic form of exercise, Tai Chi, as well as stimulating discussion led to similar increases in brain volume and improvements on psychological tests of memory and thinking.

The group that did not participate in the interventions showed brain shrinkage over the same time period, consistent with what generally has been observed for persons in their 60s and 70s.

Numerous studies have shown that dementia and the syndrome of gradual cognitive deterioration that precedes it is associated with increasing shrinkage of the brain as nerve cells and their connections are gradually lost.

“The ability to reverse this trend with physical exercise and increased mental activity implies that it may be possible to delay the onset of dementia in older persons through interventions that have many physical and mental health benefits,” said lead author Dr. James Mortimer, professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida College of Public Health.

Research suggests that aerobic exercise is associated with increased production of brain growth factors. It remains to be determined whether forms of exercise like Tai Chi that include an important mental exercise component could lead to similar changes in the production of these factors. “If this is shown, then it would provide strong support to the concept of “use it or lose it” and encourage seniors to stay actively involved both intellectually and physically,” Dr. Mortimer said.

One question raised by the research is whether sustained physical and mental exercise can contribute to the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common dementing illness.

“Epidemiologic studies have shown repeatedly that individuals who engage in more physical exercise or are more socially active have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Mortimer said. “The current findings suggest that this may be a result of growth and preservation of critical regions of the brain affected by this illness.”

Source: James A. Mortimer, Ding Ding, Amy R. Borenstein, Charles DeCarli, Qihao Guo, Yougui Wu, Qianhua Zhao, Shugang Chu. Changes in Brain Volume and Cognition in a Randomized Trial of Exercise and Social Interaction in a Community-Based Sample of Non-Demented Chinese EldersJournal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2012

Tai Chi Chuan exercise related change in brain function as assessed by functional near-infrared spectroscopy

Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) is a typical mind–body and low–intensity aerobic exercise that involves cognitive training and movement meditation and has positive associations with physiological and psychological conditions. TCC has metabolic equivalents estimated between 1.5 and 4.0.

This aerobic intensity overlaps with brisk walking which has been demonstrated to contribute to the prevention of cognitive decline, and rehabilitation of dementia and stroke; notably, TCC has been observed to improve power, balance, memory and attention after 6 months.

Moreover, TCC practice can affect the brain prefrontal structure and function and improve memory, as observed by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The parietal and occipital cortices in TCC practitioners were found to have thickened through the same method.

Electroencephalo–graph (EEG) showed significant theta activities in the fronto–central and centro–parietal cortical areas in TCC practitioners and TCC have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. However, the mechanism of the effects of TCC training on brain function remains poorly understood, especially in real–time body movements. Therefore, it is necessary to study the change in brain function related to TCC movement state.

Beyond the intensity of activity in a particular cortical region induced by TCC, significant differences in brain activity and dynamic configuration of connectivity were observed between the TCC and control groups during resting and movement states. These findings suggested that TCC training improved the connection of PFC, MC and OC in myogenic activity, sympathetic nervous system, and endothelial cell metabolic activities; enhanced brain functional connections and relayed the ability of TCC to improve cognition and the anti–memory decline potential… Read full article

11 Ways Tai Chi Can Benefit Your Health

Tai Chi Chuan practice above ocean
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves mood
  • Better sleep
  • Weight loss
  • Improves cognition
  • Improves balance
  • Fibromyalgia
  • COPD
  • Parkinson’s
  • Heart disease
  • Arthritis
  • Takeaway

What is tai chi?

Tai chi is a form of exercise that began as a Chinese tradition. It’s based in martial arts, and involves slow movements and deep breaths. Tai chi has many physical and emotional benefits. Some of the benefits of tai chi include decreased anxiety and depression and improvements in cognition. It may also help you manage symptoms of some chronic diseases, such as fibromyalgia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Read on to learn more about the benefits and risks of tai chi, and how you can begin practicing this exercise.

1. Reduces stress

One of the main benefits of tai chi is its ability to reduce stress and anxiety, though most evidence is anecdotal.

In 2018, one study compared the effects of tai chi on stress-related anxiety to traditional exercise. The study included 50 participants. The researchers found that tai chi provided the same benefits for managing stress-related anxiety as exercise. Because tai chi also includes meditation and focused breathing, the researchers noted that tai chi may be superior to other forms of exercise for reducing stress and anxiety. However… Read the full article

Tai Chi Chuan optimizes the functional organization of the intrinsic human brain architecture in older adults

Brain and functional homogeneity, research article

Whether Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) can influence the intrinsic functional architecture of the human brain remains unclear. To examine TCC-associated changes in functional connectomes, resting-state functional magnetic resonance images were acquired from 40 older individuals including 22 experienced TCC practitioners (experts) and 18 demographically matched TCC-naive healthy controls, and their local functional homogeneities across the cortical mantle were compared.

Compared to the controls, the TCC experts had significantly greater and more experience-dependent functional homogeneity in the right post-central gyrus (PosCG) and less functional homogeneity in the left anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the right dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex. Increased functional homogeneity in the PosCG was correlated with TCC experience. Intriguingly, decreases in functional homogeneity (improved functional specialization) in the left ACC and increases in functional homogeneity (improved functional integration) in the right PosCG both predicted performance gains on attention network behavior tests.

These findings provide evidence for the functional plasticity of the brain’s intrinsic architecture toward optimizing locally functional organization, with great implications for understanding the effects of TCC on cognition, behavior and health in aging population… Read full article

Slow motion of Tai Chi Chuan—William C. C. Chen

Spleen 21 meridian schematic

June 12, 2018

The awareness center of brain is located on the top of the back head in Chinese medical chart named “Baihui” (百會- the hundred gatherings, which is a place to receive information and processing.) and the western’s indication is an “Antenna”. Raising the alertness in the brain from spinal cord without muscle tension (虛靈頂勁) in the movements is elevating the feeling of Yi to animate the Qi in the fingers and toes into a desire action. At same time, it raises the oxygen and blood in the brain cells to keep them healthy and to perfect their functioning.

These are the objective of martial artists to have the ability of quick central nervous system reactions. Their punches and kicks are undertaken directly by the brain awareness. When this awareness awakens, action is delivered by the remote nervous system components of fingers and toes. Synchronizing the awareness of the brain, fingers and toes is the central purpose of this Tai Chi Chuan   practice.

The slow-motion of Tai Chi Chuan practice is like Bluetooth, pairing the connection of the fingers and the toes with the control center of the nervous system. Once it’s paired, the practitioner’s brain, fingers and toes work as an inseparable unit: any emotion and intention in the conscious brain is instantly transmitted into the physical action of the fingers and toes without any delay. This is of extreme importance for martial artists when they are engaged in fighting.

The quick transmission of a neuro-reflex into physical action is essential for the martial artist, with the implication that he or she can deliver the punches and kicks within a split second. It is like the specialized ability of the courtroom stenographer; whose fingers type as people speak. This neural and physical connection is a necessary function of all human beings, which enables them to accomplish our daily activities more effectively and quickly, whether we work at home or have a job in an office.

In today’s rapidly changing world, left hemisphere brain functioning is no longer enough. Today’s invention is tomorrow’s history, and by the day after tomorrow, it’s ancient history. The work of future Tai Chi Chuan players will require creative and intuitive thinking as well as physical action. Any successful individual can and must learn how to use a fully functional brain integrated with the power of emotional and physical cooperation.

For the past 60’s of my teaching, learning and sharing this slow motion of the movements, I began with body mechanics principles, then moved into bio-mechanics and now I am involved with neurophysiology. The connections of the three elements of brain, fingers and toes are crucial to our daily activities. It is like the computer that requires the software of human a brilliant mind to enhance the system. The system must be updated monthly, weekly even daily. The bus is not going to stop here, the learning and perfecting is never ending, which is similar to our computer’s software being updated every so often.

These unhurried and relaxed movements help to regulate the nervous system, lubricate the joints and eliminate stiff muscle contractions. They facilitate full cooperation with brain function, circumventing physical interference from the muscles. This enables our fingers and toes to reach the highest level in the work of art.

For health, the soft movements of the practice ease body tension, promote the flow of vital energy Qi and replaces muscle rigidity with flexibility and excellent body coordination. They boost one’s mental tranquility, improve physical fitness, increase blood circulation to its full capacity, and provide the tissues of the various organs with the maximum amount of oxygen.

These silent meditative movements of Tai Chi Chuan is an art of Tao 道 which incorporates the brain workout, setting up a solid state communication between the neurons in the brain and the distant limbs of the fingers and toes. On top of this, an elevated oxygenate-blood flow in the brain cells helps to keep this utmost important central organ alive, like new. It is an essential to the martial artists, as well as the greatest contributions to the well-being of humanity. (寧靜的太極拳動作帶給人類最佳的貢獻).

An evidence map of the effect of Tai Chi on health outcomes

Tai Chi Chuan practice outcomes

National Institutes of Health / July 27, 2016

Tai Chi, also known as Tai Chi Chuan or Taijiquan, developed as an ancient Chinese martial art and is today widely practiced for its health benefits. Many forms of Tai Chi exist, but in western culture, it is most commonly taught as a series of slow, gentle, low-impact movements that integrate the breath, mind, and physical activity to achieve greater awareness and a sense of inner peace and well-being. The meditative movement is designed to strengthen and stretch the body, improve the flow of blood and other fluids, improve balance, proprioception, and awareness of how the body moves through space; and it may be practiced in a group format or alone [1]. Results from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey — a survey of a representative sample of adults in the USA — estimated that approximately 2.3 million adults in the USA practiced Tai Chi in the past 12 months. There is no official licensure granted by national or state professional boards, and there are no official standards for training instructors; thus, individual training programs vary.

Research on effects of Tai Chi on health outcomes continues to expand and has been the subject of many primary research studies and reviews of the literature. The research field covers a wide spectrum of clinical indications, targets a range of populations, and has focused on a variety of settings. A systematic review of systematic reviews identified 35 reviews published in 2010 and concluded that Tai Chi is effective for fall prevention and improving psychological health and was associated with general health benefits for older people [2]. However, the interest in Tai Chi has increased in particular in recent years and since 2010, more than twice as many systematic reviews have been published. In order to provide a broad overview of the research evidence that has been published to date, we conducted a systematic review of systematic reviews of the effects of Tai Chi on health outcomes [3]… Read full article

Read more

Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan—William C.C. Chen

William C.C. Chen demonstrating push hands technique

The Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan Form is unlike other forms. It is a series of slow, continuous and even flowing movements that can be practiced by people of all ages.

Imagine how happy you would feel if each new day brought you plenty of energy for all of life’s duties and responsibilities.

Do you have sufficient energy to accomplish all you want to accomplish?

If you could become the creative person you always wanted to be?

Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan can help you experience the changes you seek. Daily Tai Chi practice can transform a ready supply of energy. Our bodies are made up of food and water, a delicate balance of the five elements. Regular practice can become powerful and practical mechanism to increase your inner reserves of energy.

We can show you how a 15 to 30 minutes of low impact exercise daily can mean an improvement in joint mobility and muscle flexibility; and improvement in the circulation of lymphatic and venous fluids; better assimilation of nutrients and the elimination of toxins; a reduction of stress; and a better overall flow of energy through the entire body.

Tai Chi for stress reduction, better focus and concentration, increased flexibility, improved strength, enhanced immune system, balance, improved memory, improved circulation and coordination.

Movement & breathing may help the following conditions. Always check with your health care professional: Arthritis, Allergies, Osteoporosis, Hypertension, Anxiety, Fatigue, Depression, Back Pain, Post Surgery Recovery, Muscle Tension and Spasm, Poor Circulation, Stroke Recovery, Asthma, Stress Reduction.

Tai Chi and Heart Disease—Roni Caryn Rabin, NY Times

Tai Chi Chuan and reducing heart disease

Although the number of Tai Chi trials is limited, several have shown that Tai Chi Chuan can reduce certain cardiovascular risk factors, including reducing levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides, increasing levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and slowing heart rate.

There is also quite a bit of evidence to suggest the practice can improve blood pressure. Harvard doctors who conducted a systematic review of the medical literature in 2008 found that 22 of 26 studies reported reductions in blood pressure among participants who practiced Tai Chi.

One 1996 trial that randomly assigned 126 heart attack survivors to either a Tai Chi, an aerobic exercise or a non-exercise support group for eight weeks found improvements in both diastolic and systolic blood pressure (the top and bottom numbers) only in the Tai Chi group. Participants were also more likely to stick with the Tai Chi program over time… Read full article

A Downside to Tai Chi? None That I See—Jane E. Brody, NY Times

Graphic for Tai Chi Chuan kick

The graceful, dancelike progression of meditative poses called “Tai Chi Chuan” originated in ancient China as a martial art, but the exercise is best known in modern times as a route to reduced stress and enhanced health. After reviewing existing scientific evidence for its potential health benefits, I’ve concluded that the proper question to ask yourself may not be why you should practice tai chi, but why not.

It is a low-impact activity suitable for people of all ages and most states of health, even those who “hate” exercise or have long been sedentary. It is a gentle, calming exercise — some call it meditation in motion — that involves deep breathing but no sweat or breathlessness.

It places minimal stress on joints and muscles and thus is far less likely than other forms of exercise to cause muscle soreness or injury. It requires no special equipment or clothing and can be practiced almost anywhere at any time, alone or with others… Read full article