Tai Chi Boosts Memory, Protects Against Dementia, Study Finds

2 min read

Nov. 6, 2023 -- Older people enrolled in tai chi classes showed improved performance on memory tests, especially if they took a more challenging form of the exercise, says a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

About 300 people in their mid-70s participated in the study. They all took the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, with an average score of 25, NPR reported. A score of 26-30 is considered normal and a score of 18-25 means they don’t have dementia but they do have memory problems.

Participants who took a simplified form of tai chi called Tai Ji Quan twice a week for six months improved their score by 1.5 points.

"If you're able to keep doing [tai chi] two or three days a week on a routine basis, you're going to get extra years before you hit that decline into dementia," lead author Elizabeth Eckstrom, MD, of Oregon Health and Science University told NPR.

Participants who practiced a form called Cognitively Enhanced Tai Ji Quan improved their score about 3 points, NPR reported. In that form, challenges were added, such as asking participants to spell a word forward and backwards as they did the movements.

"We've just given you six extra years of cognitive function," Eckstrom said. "That's a lot."

“Among community-dwelling older adults with (mild cognitive impairment), cognitively enriched tai ji quan therapy was superior to standard tai ji quan and stretching exercise in improving global cognition and reducing dual-task gait interference, with outcomes sustained at 48 weeks,” the study concluded.

Previous studies have shown that tai chi, a gentle exercise with slow and precise movements, improve a person’s balance and decrease their risk of falling. Studies show it can also reduce pain in people with low-back pain, fibromyalgia, and knee osteoarthritis, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.