Biochemical changes in Tai Chi Practitioners – If you see a group of people in a park intently performing a series of coordinated graceful moves, chances are they are doing tai chi. Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that is also done for health. Research shows that it’s helpful for many medical conditions, but the mechanism by which it worked was not understood. In a new study, however, researchers were able to unlock some of the mystery of how it affects the brain and muscles.
What Is Tai Chi?
A Time magazine article described Tai Chi as “a cross between shadow boxing and slow-motion ballet. Tai Chi’s popularity in America began to rise in the 90s. With research showing its health benefits, the practice has become even more popular. A Tai Chi practice combines breath with meditative and graceful moves to develop agility, balance, and strength. The Harvard Health Publication calls Tai Chi “medication in motion.”
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), a division of the National Institute of Health (NIH), Tai chi may help improve balance in older people and patients with Parkinson’s Disease. The NCCIH suggests it may also be beneficial in reducing pain in the back and knees (due to arthritis). It is said to help the quality of life for those with heart disease, fibromyalgia, and other chronic diseases.
Measuring Biochemical Changes in the Body
While there is a great deal of research on the benefits of Tai Chi, there’s not many that measured biochemical changes in the body. The pilot study conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School wanted to look at what if any biochemical markers could be measured in the brain and leg muscles.
They were specifically interested in the effects of Tai Chi on the older population. Six healthy older adults participated in the 12-week Tai Chi study that looked for neuronal markers in the brain and muscles using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS).
“‘The benefits of Tai Chi have been well known anecdotally; however recent research such as our study can quantify these improvements using objective measures,’ said senior author Dr. Alexander Lin, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.”
You may be familiar with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines that use a magnetic field and radio waves to create images of the body’s organs and tissues. An MRS measures biochemical changes and their structures in the brain or muscles. This study used a combined brain-muscle MRS.
After 12 weeks, researchers found a substantial increase in a marker that measures the health of brain neurons. Also, metabolites that are involved in energy production in leg muscles had a significant improvement in their recovery rate.
While research in the past shown has shown that Tai Chi is beneficial for improved health using other scientific methods, this study shows that there are positive changes in the body’s biochemistry from practicing Tai Chi.
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Lam, Peter. Marcin, Judith, MD, reviewer. What to know about MRI scans (July 24, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/146309.php.
Tai Chi and Qi Gong: In Depth. Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/taichi/introduction.htm.
Tai Chi improves brain metabolism and muscle energetics in older adults, study finds (April 19, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180419100204.htm.
The Health benefits of tai chi (December 4, 2015). Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-benefits-of-tai-chi.
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Science Daily, Tai Chi improves brain metabolism and muscle energetics in older adults, study finds, April 19, 2018. Web.