Practicing Tai Chi found to Improve Brain Size and Cognition in the Elderly

In an article published in the latest issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers from the University of South Florida and Fudan University in Shanghai have found that Chinese elderly who practiced Tai Chi three times a week showed an increase in their brain size and an associated improvement in cognitive functions. The study also showed an increase in the brain size and an improvement in cognitive abilities, although to a lesser degree, when the elderly participated regularly in active discussions.

Studies done in the past have showed similar improvement in brain volume and cognitive functions associated with aerobics. However, this is the first study of its kind to show that these improvements can be possible even without indulging in heavy exercises. Elderly practicing Tai Chi showed improvement in tests involving memory and thinking.

The study was led by Dr. James Mortimer, professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida College of Public Health. The researchers carried out an eight month long randomized controlled trial on a representative sample of 120 elderly from Shanghai, China. The elderly were divided into four groups and each group practiced either Tai Chi, walking, social interaction or no intervention for the forty weeks of the study duration. The participants underwent MRI scans of their brain both at the starting and at the end of the study period. They also underwent a number of neuropsychological tests at baseline, 20 weeks, and at the end of the study. The results obtained in the first three groups were then compared with the group which did not undergo any intervention.

The researchers noticed that there was significant increase in the volume of the brain in the groups who practiced Tai Chi and who had social interaction. The Tai Chi group performed better than others in the neuropsychological tests as well. The social intervention group showed improvement in cognitive tests but the improvement was less compared to the Tai Chi group. There was no improvement seen in the Walking and No intervention groups. The results have prompted the researchers to think that sustained physical and mental exercises may help in preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

Friday, June 22, 2012
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