Protect the Brain from Age-Related Atrophy with Tai Chi

Protect the Brain from Age-Related Atrophy with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Tai Chi . . improves brain health and can be an effective solution for simple, age-related decline in brain function.” – FAI Education

 

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.

 

In today’s Research News article “Long-Term Tai Chi Experience Promotes Emotional Stability and Slows Gray Matter Atrophy for Elders.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00091/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_907099_69_Psycho_20190212_arts_A ), Liu and colleagues recruited older (60 to 70 years of age) adults who had been practicing Tai Chi for at least 10 years and control participants who were matched to the Tai Chi group on age, physical activity and gender. They were measured for mindfulness, depression, impulsivity, and personality. They also underwent brain scanning with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The participants also completed a computerized risk-taking task which had both positive or negative outcomes. They completed emotion ratings after each outcome.

 

They found that the experienced Tai Chi practitioners had significantly greater emotional stability and took less risks than the control group. Additionally, the Tai Chi group had significantly stronger emotional reactions to both good and bad outcomes in the risk-taking task. The brain scans revealed that the Tai Chi group had significantly greater grey matter in the areas of the brain known as the hippocampus and the thalamus. They also found that the greater the grey matter in the thalamus the greater the levels of mindfulness and emotional stability while the greater the grey matter in the hippocampus the greater the levels of emotional stability and lower levels of neuroticism and risk taking.

 

These are interesting results but the study is correlational and cross sectional. So, care must be exercised in interpretation of causation. But the fact that the control group was equally physically active as the Tai Chi group is a strength that suggests that the results were due to Tai Chi practice per se and not just to the physical activity produced by Tai Chi practice. The results suggest that Tai Chi practice may help to protect the brain, particularly the thalamus and hippocampus, from age-related degeneration as has been previously reported, and this protection may be associated with greater emotional stability and lower risk taking.

 

The findings of less risk taking of the elderly Tai Chi participants may be an important observation. The elderly may be vulnerable to injury and falls that can produce serious injuries in this group. One reason that Tai Chi may produce fewer falls in the elderly is that they are being more careful and taking fewer risks. The elderly are also financially vulnerable and may benefit from less financial risk taking in protecting their available resources.

 

So, protect the brain from age-related atrophy with Tai Chi.

 

regular practice of Tai Chi could play an important role in promoting both brain and muscle health in older adults. Tai Chi is a mind-body exercise worth exploring at any age.” – Marilyn Wei

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available at the Contemplative Studies Blog http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/

They are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Liu S, Li L, Liu Z and Guo X (2019) Long-Term Tai Chi Experience Promotes Emotional Stability and Slows Gray Matter Atrophy for Elders. Front. Psychol. 10:91. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00091

 

Brain adverse structural changes, especially the atrophy of gray matter, are inevitable in aging. Fortunately, the human brain is plastic throughout its entire life. The current cross-section study aimed to investigate whether long-term Tai Chi exercise could slow gray matter atrophy and explore the possible links among gray matter volume (GMV), long-term Tai Chi experience and emotional stability in a sequential risk-taking task by using voxel-based morphometry. Elders with long-term Tai Chi experience and controls, who were matched to Tai Chi group in age, gender, physical activity level, participated in the study. A T1-weighted multiplanar reconstruction sequence was acquired for each participant. Behaviorally, the Tai Chi group showed higher meditation level, stronger emotional stability and less risk-taking tendency in the sequential risk-taking compared to the control group. Moreover, the results revealed that the GMV of the thalamus and hippocampus were larger in the Tai Chi group compared with the control group. Notably, the GMV of the thalamus was positively correlated with both meditation level and emotional stability. The current study suggested the protective role of long-term Tai Chi exercise at slowing gray matter atrophy, improving the emotional stability and achieving successful aging for elders.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00091/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_907099_69_Psycho_20190212_arts_A

 

Settle Down Out-of-Control Teens with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“In the last few years, mindfulness has emerged as a way of treating children and adolescents with conditions ranging from ADHD to anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, depression and stress. And the benefits are proving to be tremendous.” – Juliann Garey

 

The last component of the nervous system to develop is the higher cortical areas that underlying behavioral inhibition; the ability to hold back responses. As a result, the adolescent brain is fully developed to produce behavior and react to the environment, but is defective in the ability to withhold or restrain behaviors when inappropriate. So, adolescents are often impulsive, take unnecessary risks, and can be inappropriately aggressive, leading to disciplinary problems.

 

This late development of higher level control of behavior is responsible for some troubling statistics. Young people ages 15-24 represent only 14% of the U.S. population, but they account for 30% of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males. Regarding youth violence and aggression, 46% of males, and 26% of females reported they had been in physical fights, one million U.S. students took guns to school and six thousand were kicked out of school for packing weapons, the annual death toll from school shootings has more than doubled, the youth homicide rate increased by 168 percent, and juvenile arrest for possession of weapons, aggravated assault, robbery, and murder have risen more than 50 percent.

 

It is important for society to control violent and aggressive behavior and late adolescence and young adulthood are periods when the likelihood is high. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce violence and aggression in adults. So, it would seem reasonable to investigate whether mindfulness training may be effective in helping to control the aggressive tendencies of youth. In today’s Research News article “Effect of a Mindfulness Training Program on the Impulsivity and Aggression Levels of Adolescents with Behavioral Problems in the Classroom.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1367699476587308/?type=3&theater

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01385/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w40-2016

Franco and colleagues recruited 12-19 year old youths who had multiple incidents of misbehavior in school. The students were randomly assigned to either receive 20-weeks of 15 minutes per day, 5 days per week, of open monitoring meditation, or to a wait list control condition. Before and after training the youths were measured for aggression and impulsivity with self-report psychometric scales.

 

They found that the meditation group, but not the control group, had significant reductions in overall impulsivity (14%), including significant reductions in cognitive (19%), motor (13%), and non-planned (10%) impulsivity and also significant reductions in physical (14%) and verbal (24%) aggression, and hostility (19%) and anger (16%). All of these effects had large significant effect sizes. Hence, meditation training produced marked reduction in impulsivity and aggression in these troubled adolescents.

 

These are impressive results and suggest that meditation may be very effective in helping adolescents control their impulsivity and aggression. Gaining control over their behavior may allow them to engage in their education without distraction. Meditation may have this impact as a result of its ability to improve emotion regulation, providing the youths with the ability to cope with emotions in a more positive and adaptive way. It may also act by decreasing rumination and worry and thereby reduce the effects of past issues and worries about the future to intrude on present behavior. Regardless of the explanation, the results are exciting and suggest that meditation practice should be tried for troubled youth in other settings.

 

So, settle down out-of-control teens with mindfulness.

 

“It is suggested here that there is a difference between knowing about emotions and knowing your own emotions as they are experienced. In addition to learning about emotions, there is a distinct advantage in learning how to notice what’s happening in the present moment. Attending to and identifying emotions can mitigate the emotional reaction and increase emotional balance and clarity.” –  Tina Barseghian

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Franco C, Amutio A, López-González L, Oriol X and Martínez-Taboada C (2016) Effect of a Mindfulness Training Program on the Impulsivity and Aggression Levels of Adolescents with Behavioral Problems in the Classroom. Front. Psychol. 7:1385. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01385

 

Objective: The aim of the present study was to analyze the effects of a mindfulness training psycho-educative program on impulsivity and aggression levels in a sample of high school students.

Methods: A randomized controlled trial with pre-test–post-test measurements was applied to an experimental group and a control group (waiting list). The Barratt Impulsivity Scale (BIS-11) Patton et al. (1995) and the Aggression Questionnaire (Buss and Perry, 1992) were used.

Results: Statistical analyses showed a significant decrease in the levels of impulsivity and aggressiveness in the experimental group compared with the control group. These results have important implications for improving the level of academic engagement and self-efficacy of students and for reducing school failure.

Conclusion: This is one of the first studies showing the effectiveness of mindfulness training at reducing impulsive and aggressive behaviors in the classroom. The efficacy of mindfulness-based programs is emphasized.

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01385/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w40-2016

 

Be Less Impulsive with Mindfulness

“The antithetical nature of mindfulness and automatic or impulsive behaviors provides theoretical promise for the efficacy of mindfulness skills in the treatment of impulse control disorders.” – Kelcey J. Stratton

 

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a very serious mental illness that is estimated to affect 1.6% of the U.S. population. It involves unstable moods, behavior, and relationships, problems with regulating emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior, and unstable relationships. In addition, 30 to 90 % of BPD cases are associated with high rates of early traumatic experiences including sexual, physical and emotional abuse. BPD is associated with high rates of co-occurring depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal behaviors, and completed suicides. Needless to say it is widespread and debilitating.

 

Many of these symptoms occur in other mental illnesses. Impulsivity, however, distinguishes BPD from other disorders. In addition, it is the reason that the disorder is dangerous to the individuals as it can propel them, on the spur of the moment, to overreact to anger, take drugs, harm themselves, and even terminate their lives. BPD has not responded well to a variety of therapies with the exception of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DPT). It is significant that a difference between DBT and other therapies is that it emphasizes mindfulness. This suggests that mindfulness training may be essential in treating Borderline Personality Disorder and impulsivity. Indeed, BPD sufferers who are high in mindfulness tend to be low in impulsivity. It would make sense, then, that the mindfulness training occurring in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DPT) may be an effective treatment for the dangerous symptom of impulsivity.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of mindfulness training on different components of impulsivity in borderline personality disorder: results from a pilot randomized study”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1171437569546834/?type=3&theater

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4709962/

Soler and colleagues randomly assigned Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) patients to receive 10-weeks of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DPT) which was modified to include only Mindfulness Training (MT) or Interpersonal Effectiveness Training (IE). IE is designed to teach patients how to act more effectively in interpersonal interactions. They found that only the Mindfulness Training group showed a significant improvement in three self-reported aspects of impulsivity, motor impulsiveness (acting without forethought); attentional impulsiveness (the tendency to make quick, non-reflexive decisions), and non-planning impulsiveness (failure to prepare for future events). They also measured impulsivity with a series of laboratory tests designed to measure various aspects of impulsivity. They found that the Mindfulness Training group showed improvements in delaying gratification and in time perception.

 

These results are interesting. They suggest that the Mindfulness Training component of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DPT) may be effective in treating the impulsivity characteristic of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) by improving the patients’ ability to delay gratification. Improved time perception may be responsible for better ability to delay gratification. It is important to note that impulsivity usually involves an inability to wait to get what is wanted. So, improved ability to delay gratification would be antithetical to impulsiveness. This may be the underlying mechanism by which mindfulness reduces impulsivity.

 

As mentioned BPD is a difficult disorder to treat and potentially dangerous to the self and others. It appears that the distinctive feature of BPD, impulsivity, is improved by DBT and that it is the mindfulness training that is responsible. This is particularly important as impulsivity is primarily responsible for the dangerous behaviors of BPD sufferers. It also appears that the mindfulness training acts to reduce impulsivity by improving time perception and the ability to delay gratification.

 

Impulsivity produces actions reflexively without awareness. Mindfulness training by improving the individual’s awareness of the immediate situation would tend to counteract impulsive action. So, mindfulness training may be essential to DBT’s ability to reduce impulsiveness by making the individual more aware of what they are doing. One cannot be mindful and impulsive at the same time.

 

So, be less impulsive with mindfulness.

 

“Decreased impulsivity has significant and wide implications for those suffering from it. This includes less general psychiatric morbidity, improved substance use outcomes, and general improvement in decision making skills, affecting every area of a person’s life in meaningful ways.” – Gisli Kristofersson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies