Can Tai Chi Improve Cognitive Function? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials

J Altern Complement Med. 2021 Dec;27(12):1070-1083. doi: 10.1089/acm.2021.0084. Epub 2021 Jul 26.


Background: Tai Chi (TC) is a traditional Chinese martial art with demonstrated beneficial effects on physical and mental health. In this study, the authors performed a systematic review to assess the efficiency of TC in different populations' cognitive function improvement. Design: The present systematic review utilized the Chinese National Knowledge Infrastructure (1915-), Wanfang (1998-), VIP (1989-), Chinese Biomedicine databases (1978-), PubMed (1950-), Web of Science (1900-), Cochrane Library (1948-), Embase (1974-), EBSCOhost (1922-), and OVID (1996-) databases to search and identify relevant articles published in English and Chinese from the beginning of coverage through October 17, 2020. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) published from the beginning of coverage through October 17, 2020 in English and Chinese were retrieved from many indexing databases. Selected studies were graded according to the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Intervention 5.1.0. The outcome measures of cognitive function due to traditional TC intervention were obtained. Meta-analysis was conducted by using RevMan 5.4 software. We follow the PRISMA 2020 guidelines. Results: Thirty-three RCTs, with a total of 1808 participants, were included. The study showed that TC could progress global cognition when assessed in middle-aged as well as elderly patients suffering from cognitive and executive function impairment. The findings are as follows: Montreal Cognitive Assessment Scale: mean difference (MD) = 3.23, 95% CI = 1.88-4.58, p < 0.00001, Mini-Mental State Exam: MD = 3.69, 95% CI = 0.31-7.08, p = 0.03, Trail Making Test-Part B: MD = -13.69, 95% CI = -21.64 to -5.74, p = 0.0007. The memory function of older adults assessed by the Wechsler Memory Scale was as follows: MD = 23.32, 95% CI = 17.93-28.71, p < 0.00001. The executive function of college students evaluated by E-prime software through the Flanker test was as follows: MD = -16.32, 95% CI = -22.71 to -9.94, p < 0.00001. Conclusion: The TC might have a positive effect on the improvement of cognitive function in middle-aged and elderly people with cognitive impairment as well as older adults and college students.

Keywords: Tai Chi; cognitive function; meta-analysis; randomized controlled trial; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / therapy
  • Executive Function
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Tai Ji*