June 27, 2016 - Tai Chi practice has some fitness, wellness, and general cognitive effects in older adults. However, benefits of Tai Chi on specific mental-attentional executive processes have not been investigated previously. York University studied older Canadian adults of Chinese and non-Chinese origin and from low socioeconomic areas.
In this study that is published by the journal BMC psychology in May, 2016, 64 adults (51-87 years old) took part in a 16-week Tai Chi program. There were two groups: 35 of Chinese-background and 29 of Non-Chinese-background. They received four mental-attention executive tasks before and after the 16-week period. These tasks measured visuospatial reasoning, mental-attentional activation (working memory), attentional inhibition, and balance between these attention factors (field-dependence-independence).
Chinese participants showed significant gain on Figural Intersections Task (mental-attentional capacity), Anti-saccade (attentional inhibition), and Matrix Reasoning (fluid intelligence measure). Both groups evidenced gain on the Water Level Task (attentional balance).
These gains suggest that Tai Chi can improve mental-attentional vigilance and executive control, when practitioners are sufficiently motivated to pursue this practice, and apply themselves (as our Chinese participants seem to have done). We found that Tai Chi enhanced mental attentional executives in the Chinese sample. The largely negative results with Non-Chinese participants might be explained by less strong motivation and by the relatively short Tai Chi practice period, which contrasts with the prior familiarity with Tai Chi of the Chinese participants.