Tai Chi Improves Brain Metabolism and Muscle Energetics in Older Adults


Tai Chi is a mind-body exercise that has been shown to improve both mental and physical health. However, the underlying physiological changes have not been characterized. A new pilot study carried out by researchers from Harvard Medical School and several Chinese institutes assessed the changes in brain metabolites and muscle energetics after Tai Chi training in an aging population using a combined brain-muscle magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) examination.

Six healthy older adults were prospectively recruited and enrolled into a 12-week Tai Chi program. A brain MRS and a muscle MRS were scanned before and after the training, and post-processed to measure NAA/Cr ratios and phosphocreatine (PCr) recovery time. Wilcoxon-signed rank tests were utilized to assess the differences between pre- and post-Tai Chi training.

A significant within-subject increase in both the NAA/Cr ratios and the PCr recovery time was observed between the baseline and the post-training scans. The median percentage changes were 5.38% and 16.51% for NAA/Cr and PCr recovery time, respectively.

This pilot study demonstrates significant increase of NAA/Cr ratios in posterior cingulate gyrus and significantly improved PCr recovery time in leg muscles in older adults following short-term Tai Chi training, and thus provides insight into the beneficial mechanisms. The findings are published in the April, 2018 issues of Journal of neuroimaging.

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