Tai Chi practice on prefrontal oxygenation levels in older adults: A pilot study

Complement Ther Med. 2019 Feb;42:132-136. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2018.11.005. Epub 2018 Nov 6.


Objective: The role of exercise in preventing or delaying age-related cognitive decline is an important focus of rehabilitation. Tai Chi (TC) is a traditional Chinese exercise that has been found to improve cognitive function. However, the mechanism underlying this improvement is still unknown. We compared the effects of TC practice (mind-body exercise) and arm ergometry (AE; body focused exercise) on prefrontal cortex activity between TC practitioners and non-practitioners.

Design: This cross-sectional study included 16 older female subjects (8 TC practitioners and 8 non-practitioners). The practitioners had each practiced TC for at least 7 years. Prefrontal cortex activity was measured using the prefrontal oxygenation level obtained with near-infrared spectroscopy. During the spectroscopy measurement, the participants performed TC, after watching a video of 12-form seated Yang Style TC, and AE in a subsequent session.

Results: We found significantly greater changes in the levels of oxyhemoglobin (HbO2; p = 0.022) and total hemoglobin (cHb; p = 0.002) in the TC condition compared with the AE condition in all participants. In the TC practitioner group, a similar trend was shown in the change of HbO2 (p = 0.117) and cHb (p = 0.051) when practicing TC versus AE. However, in the non-practitioner group, we found a statistically greater change in cHb (p = 0.005) but not in HbO2 (p = 0.056).

Conclusion: The older adults had higher brain activity when practicing TC compared with AE, and a significant effect was observed in the non-practitioner group. These pilot results may provide insight into the underlying mechanism of the effectiveness of TC practice in preventing cognitive decline in older adults.

Keywords: Cognitive decline; Mind-body exercise; Prefrontal activities; Tai Chi.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Postural Balance / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Tai Ji / psychology*


  • Oxygen