Improve Cardiovascular and Cognitive Function with Tai Chi

Improve Cardiovascular and Cognitive Function with Tai Chi


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“A growing body of carefully conducted research is building a compelling case for tai chi as an adjunct to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age,” – Peter M. Wayne


Tai Chi has been practiced for thousands of years with benefits for health and longevity. Tai Chi training is designed to enhance function and regulate the activities of the body through regulated breathing, mindful concentration, and gentle movements. Only recently though have the effects of Tai Chi practice been scrutinized with empirical research. But, it has been found to be effective for an array of physical and psychological issues. It appears to strengthen the immune systemreduce inflammation, increase the number of cancer killing cells in the bloodstream and improve cardiovascular function. Tai Chi has also been shown to help the elderly improve attentionbalance, reducing fallsarthritiscognitive functionmemory, and reduce age related deterioration of the brain.


Because Tai Chi is not strenuous, involving slow gentle movements, and is safe, having no appreciable side effects, it is appropriate for all ages including the elderly and for individuals with illnesses that limit their activities or range of motion. So, with indications of so many benefits it makes sense to explore further the effects of Tai Chi training on physical and psychological well-being. One way to do this is to look at the short-term acute effects of Tai Chi training on practitioners.


In today’s Research News article “Acute Effects of Tai Chi Training on Cognitive and Cardiovascular Responses in Late Middle-Aged Adults: A Pilot Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ), Cheung and colleagues recruited healthy older adults, aged 50 to 65 years, who had either at least 1 year of Tai Chi practice or no Tai Chi practice. The Tai Chi practitioners were asked to practice for 10 minutes while the non-practitioners were asked to stand quietly. For 1 minute before and after the 10-minute practice period they were measured for heart rate, oxygen saturation in the blood, perceived stress and palmar skin temperature. The Electroencephalogram (EEG) from the frontal cortex was measured and used to gauge attention and meditation levels.


They found that prior to the Tai Chi practice the EEG-derived attention level significantly increased but fell during and after the practice in the practitioners but not the control group. After practice the perceived stress level was significantly lower, 44%, and the heart rate was significantly lower in the practitioners relative to the control group.


These results suggest that the very short-term effects of Tai Chi practice in experienced practitioners are to increase attention and lower perceived stress and heart rate. This suggests that the immediate effects of Tai Chi practice are to improve the psychological and physiological states of the practitioners. Compounded over time these effects may be responsible for the great health benefits of Tai Chi practice.


So, improve cardiovascular and cognitive function with Tai Chi.


“It’s a rare aspect of exercise. Unlike almost every other form of physical activity, tai chi demands focus, which is central to its meditative benefits. “Even with yoga, you can do it and have your mind be somewhere else. It’s very hard to do tai chi and not be present.” – Michael Irwin


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Cheung, T. C. Y., Liu, K. P. Y., Wong, J. Y. H., Bae, Y.-H., Hui, S. S.-C., Tsang, W. W. N., … Fong, S. S. M. (2018). Acute Effects of Tai Chi Training on Cognitive and Cardiovascular Responses in Late Middle-Aged Adults: A Pilot Study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2018, 7575123.



This study explored the immediate effects of Tai Chi (TC) training on attention and meditation, perceived stress level, heart rate, oxygen saturation level in blood, and palmar skin temperature in late middle-aged adults. Twenty TC practitioners and 20 nonpractitioners volunteered to join the study. After baseline measurements were taken, the TC group performed TC for 10 minutes while their cognitive states and cardiovascular responses were concurrently monitored. The control group rested for the same duration in a standing position. Both groups were then reassessed. The participants’ attention and meditation levels were measured using electroencephalography; stress levels were measured using Perceived Stress Scale; heart rate and blood oxygenation were measured using an oximeter; and palmar skin temperature was measured using an infrared thermometer. Attention level tended to increase during TC and dropped immediately thereafter (p < 0.001). Perceived stress level decreased from baseline to posttest in exclusively the TC group (p = 0.005). Heart rate increased during TC (p < 0.001) and decreased thereafter (p = 0.001). No significant group, time, or group-by-time interaction effects were found in the meditation level, palmar skin temperature, and blood oxygenation outcomes. While a 10-minute TC training could temporarily improve attention and decrease perceived stress levels, it could not improve meditation, palmar skin temperature, or blood oxygenation among late middle-aged adults.


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