Tai Chi expands the volume of the brain in older people and improves their cognitive performance of memory and thinking.
According to a group of scientists from the University of South Florida and Fudan University in Shanghai, practising Tai Chi regularly would have the effect, in older people, of expanding their brain volume and improving cognitive performance of memory and thinking.
The results were based on an eight-month randomised controlled trial in which the group of elderly people who practised Tai Chi three times a week were compared with a group that did not do any exercise. In the same study, the scientists also verified a significant increase in brain volume and cognitive progress in a third group, which participated in lively discussions three times a week during the same time period.
In fact, the control group, which did not participate in the interventions, showed a shrinkage of the brain (Brain Shrinkage), consistent with what normally occurs in people in their 60s and 70s.Previous research had already shown an increase in brain volume as an effect of aerobic physical exercise, and in one of these studies an improving effect on memory was also observed; however, this is the first study to show that non-aerobic exercise, Tai Chi, as well as participating in stimulating discussions, induces increased brain volume and improved cognitive performance.
Numerous studies have shown that dementia, and the syndrome of gradual cognitive impairment that precedes it, is associated with increasing shrinkage of the brain and that nerve cells and their connections are progressively lost.
“The ability to reverse this trend with exercise and increased mental activity means that it is possible to delay the onset of dementia in older people through interventions that have many physical and mental health benefits.”, said 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 established whether forms of exercise such as Tai Chi, which include an important mental exercise component, can lead to similar variations in the production of these factors.
Mortimer, J.A.,Ding, D., Borenstein,A.R., DeCarli, C., Guo, Q., Wu, Y., Zhao, Q., Chu, S., Changes in Brain Volume and Cognition in a Randomized Trial of Exercise and Social Interaction in a Community-Based Sample of Non-Demented Chinese Elders, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2012; 30 (4).