Alter the Brain for Improved Memory with Aging with Tai Chi

Alter the Brain for Improved Memory with Aging with Tai Chi


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“our brain physiology and memory can be changed with Tai Chi. . . Brain scans show neural changes in the Tai Chi group associated with better memory, especially in cognitive areas associated with spatial memory.” – Paul Lam


The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities which decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem-solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided.


Using modern neuroimaging techniques, scientists have been able to view the changes that occur in the nervous system with aging. In addition, they have been able to investigate various techniques that might slow the process of neurodegeneration that accompanies normal aging. They’ve found that mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue. Indeed, the brains of practitioners of meditation and yoga have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners. Tai Chi and Qigong have also been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline with aging and to increase brain matter in the elderly.


An interconnected system of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN) is involved in internally focused tasks such as recalling memories, daydreaming, sleeping, imagining the future and trying to take the perspective of others. The DMN involves neural structures including the medial prefrontal cortex, anterior and posterior cingulate cortices, precuneus, inferior parietal cortex, and lateral temporal cortex. These areas of the DMN are functionally connected, such that they are simultaneously active during memory retrieval. It is possible that Tai Chi practice improves memory in aging adults by altering the functional connectivity of the DMN.


In today’s Research News article “Different Modulation Effects of Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin on Resting State Functional Connectivity of the Default Mode Baduanjin is a mind-body training that is very similar to Tai Chi and consists of 8 movements for limbs, body-trunk, and eye movements. Network in Older Adults.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Liu and colleagues recruited healthy older participants, aged 50 to 70 years, who had not been regularly exercising and randomly assigned them to a health education program or to engage in a Tai Chi or Baduanjin practice for 60 minutes per session, five days per week, for 12 weeks. Baduanjin is a mind-body training that is very similar to Tai Chi and consists of 8 movements for limbs, body-trunk, and eye movements. Before and after the 12-week intervention period the participants were measured for memory function and underwent Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans.


They found that in comparison to baseline and the health education control group the older adults who practiced Tai Chi or Baduanjin had significant improvements in memory function. The MRI scans demonstrated increased Tai Chi Practice produced functional connectivity within the Default Mode Network (DMN) between the medial prefrontal cortex and right putamen/caudate and the cingulate cortex and right putamen/caudate. On the other hand, Baduanjin practice produced decreased functional connectivity between the medial prefrontal cortex and orbital prefrontal gyrus/putamen.


These results are interesting and suggest that both Tai Chi and Baduanjin practice improve memory in older adults and also alter the connectivity between structures in the Default Mode Network (DMN). Interestingly, the two practices appear to produce different changes in functional connectivity within the DMN. This suggests that the two practice my improve memory in different ways, both altering the DMN, but differently.


The results demonstrate as has previous research that ancient Chinese mindful movement practices help to restrain age related deterioration in the memory processes. These mindful movement practices are gentle and safe, are appropriate for all ages including the elderly and for individuals with illnesses that limit their activities or range of motion, are inexpensive to administer, can be performed in groups or alone, at home or in a facility, and can be quickly learned. In addition, they can be practiced in social groups. This can make it fun, improving the likelihood of long-term engagement in the practice. So, Tai Chi and Baduanjin practices would appear to be an excellent gentle practice to improve memory in aging individuals.


So, alter the brain for improved memory with aging with Tai Chi and Baduanjin practices.


tai chi is a culturally appropriate mind-body therapy for older adults with mild cognitive impairment . . . It was also effective in improving the activities of daily living and cognition.” – Medical News Bulletin


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Liu, J., Tao, J., Liu, W., Huang, J., Xue, X., Li, M., … Kong, J. (2019). Different Modulation Effects of Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin on Resting State Functional Connectivity of the Default Mode Network in Older Adults. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 14(2), 217–224. Advance online publication. doi:10.1093/scan/nsz001



The default mode network (DMN) plays an important role in age-related cognitive decline. This study aims to explore the modulation effect of two mind–body interventions (Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin) on DMN in elderly individuals. Participants between 50 and 70 years old were recruited and randomized into a Tai Chi Chuan, Baduanjin or control group. The Wechsler Memory Scale-Chinese Revision and resting-state fMRI scans were administered at baseline and following 12 weeks of exercise. Seed-based resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) was calculated. We found that (i) compared to the Baduanjin group, Tai Chi Chuan was significantly associated with increased rsFC between the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and right putamen/caudate and (ii) compared to the control group, Tai Chi Chuan increased posterior cingulate cortex rsFC with the right putamen/caudate, while Baduanjin decreased rsFC between the mPFC and orbital prefrontal gyrus/putamen. Baseline mPFC rsFC with orbital prefrontal gyrus was negatively correlated with visual reproduction subscore. These results suggest that both Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin can modulate the DMN, but through different pathways. Elucidating the mechanisms underlying different mind–body interventions may shed light on the development of new methods to prevent age-related diseases as well as other disorders associated with disrupted DMN.


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