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J Neuroimaging. 2018 Jul;28(4):359-364. doi: 10.1111/jon.12515. Epub 2018 Apr 17.

Tai Chi Improves Brain Metabolism and Muscle Energetics in Older Adults.

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Center for Clinical Spectroscopy, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.
Department of Radiology, Union Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, Hubei, China.
Hubei Province Key Laboratory of Molecular Imaging, Wuhan, Hubei, China.
Physiological NMR Core Laboratory, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA.



Tai Chi is a mind-body exercise that has been shown to improve both mental and physical health. As a result, recent literature suggests the use of Tai Chi to treat both physical and psychological disorders. However, the underlying physiological changes have not been characterized. The aim of this pilot study is to assess 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 1 H MRS and a muscle 31 P MRS were scanned before and after the training, and postprocessed to measure N-acetylaspartate to creatine (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 (P = .046) and the PCr recovery time (P = .046) was observed between the baseline and the posttraining scans. The median percentage changes were 5.38% and 16.51% for NAA/Cr and PCr recovery time, respectively.


Our 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.


N-acetylaspartate; Tai Chi; magnetic resonance spectroscopy; phosphocreatine recovery time

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