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Preventing Cognitive Decline with Aging

Two groups of women were studied in-depth and contrasted to help clarify if just long term brisk walking regularly or long term practicing tai chi regularly helped more with cognitive function in later years (seniors).  

Based upon the results, The tai chi group did much better on the cognitive tests, and demonstrated changes in the characteristics of brain matter compared to either walking or the control group.  

Each group practiced either brisk walking regularly, or tai chi regularly, for an average of six years prior to the testing.  The investigators note that tai chi may attenuate the neural network of the human brain, influencing and staving off age-associated cognitive decline.  

They conclude that long term tai chi training is more conducive than walking to optimize the brain structure and promote efficient brain function.

Description by Dr. CJ Rhoads, M.Ed., D.Ed, Kutztown University  

Tai Chi Training Evokes Significant Changes in Brain White Matter Network in Older Women

Chunlin Yue, Liye Zou, Jian Mei, Damien Moore, Fabian Herold, Patrick Müller, Qian Yu, Yang Liu, Jingyuan Lin, Yuliu Tao, Paul Loprinzi  and Zonghao Zhang


Background: Cognitive decline is age relevant and it can start as early as middle age. The decline becomes more obvious among older adults, which is highly associated with increased risk of developing dementia (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease). White matter damage was found to be related to cognitive decline through aging.

The purpose of the current study was to compare the effectsof Tai Chi (TC) versus walking on the brain white matter network among Chinese elderly women.

Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted where 42 healthy elderly women were included. Tai Chi practitioners (20 females, average age: 62.9 ± 2.38 years, education level 9.05 ± 1.8 years) and the matched walking participants (22 females, average age: 63.27 ± 3.58 years, educational level:8.86 ± 2.74 years) underwent resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rsfMRI) scans. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and graph theory were employed to study the data, construct the white matter matrix, and compare the brain network attributes between the two groups.

Results: Results from graph-based analyses showed that the small-world attributes were higher for the TC group than for the walking group (p < 0.05, Cohen’s d = 1.534). Some effects were significant (p < 0.001) with very large effect sizes. Meanwhile, the aggregation coefficient and local efficiency attributes were also higher for the TC group than for the walking group (p > 0.05). However, no significant difference was found between the two groups in node attributes and edge analysis.

Conclusion: Regular TC training is more conducive to optimize the brain functioning and networking of the elderly. The results of the current study help to identify the mechanisms underlying the cognitive protective effects of TC.

Keywords: exercise; Tai Chi; DTI; brain network of white matter; small world attributes