New research published in the Journal of Neuroimaging suggests that tai chi could improve brain health and speed up muscle recovery.
Tai Chi is a gentle, low-impact ancient Chinese flowing form of meditative movement that has been practiced for centuries. A form of mind-body exercise, Tai Chi improves balance, strength, and flexibility and reduces stress and anxiety.
The small pilot study used a noninvasive technique called magnetic resonance spectroscopy to measure biochemical markers in the brain and muscle that indicate brain health and muscle recovery time. Researchers gave 12 weeks of Tai Chi training to six healthy older adults who had no previous experience with Tai Chi and measured their brain and muscle marker levels before and after the training. Training included at least two hour-long sessions weekly.
The study examined the ratio of metabolite N-acetylaspartate (NAA), a marker of neuronal health, to creatinine in the posterior cingulate gyrus of the brain. N-acetylaspartate is almost exclusively found in the brain, and a decrease in NAA is a sign of neuronal loss.
Researchers found significantly increased ratios of NAA to creatinine after 12 weeks of Tai Chi, suggesting that Tai Chi may promote neuroplasticity, the generation of new neurons, or protect neurons from the normal process of aging.
Researchers also tracked muscle recovery by measuring phosphocreatine recovery time in the leg muscle. The recovery time for muscles significantly improved after 12 weeks of Tai Chi.
The small study suggests that the regular practice of Tai Chi could play an important role in promoting both brain and muscle health in older adults. Larger studies are needed, but in the meantime, Tai Chi is a mind-body exercise worth exploring at any age.