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Tai Chi effective at delaying cognitive decline related to Type 2 diabetes

Tai chi effective at delaying cognitive decline related to type 2 diabetes
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Tai Chi effective at delaying cognitive decline related to Type 2 diabetes

Tai chi chuan was found to help delay cognitive decline in people with mild cognitive impairment associated with Type 2 diabetes (T2D), especially when compared with brisk walking. The findings of the randomised clinical trial were published in JAMA Network Open in April 2023.

A total of 328 individuals over the age of 60 who had been clinically diagnosed with T2D and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) participated in the study. All of the participants took a 30-minute diabetes self-management class once every four weeks for 24 weeks.

The participants were split into three groups. Group 1 received instruction in 24-form simplified tai chi. Group 2 was trained in moderate-intensity fitness walking. Both groups took part in 60-minute supervised tai chi or walking sessions three times a week for 24 weeks. Group 3 did not receive any tai chi or fitness-walking training.

The tai chi and walking groups earned better scores in cognitive tests than the control group both at 24 weeks and 36 weeks. At 24 weeks, groups 1 and 2 had similar scores, but by 36 weeks, group 1’s cognitive performance was significantly better than group 2’s, which suggests that tai chi may provide a longer-lasting benefit.

Expert Commentary:

Ryan Glatt of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute, noted that this study involves individuals whose MCI is tied to T2D, and said, “So there’s probably something metabolically going on.”

“I think if you ask most people they’re going to think that the walking would naturally be more intense metabolically, but they seem to be equivalent in metabolics, which is interesting,” he pointed out.

“We are kind of left to assume that it must be the cognitive demands of tai chi, where you’re memorizing choreography, you’re paying attention, you’re constantly refining your detail. So you’re really engaging your focus, whereas with walking, you’re probably able to space out a little bit more,” said Glatt.

“There are multiple studies out there that prove that keeping the brain active through the learning of new skills creates and improves connections throughout the brain,” noted Kelley Elend. She added that tai chi “allows movement to initiate from the body – as opposed to the brain driving movement.”


Chen Y, Qin J, Tao L et al. Effects of Tai Chi Chuan on Cognitive Function in Adults 60 Years or Older With Type 2 Diabetes and Mild Cognitive Impairment in China: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Netw Open.2023;6(4):e237004. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.7004

(See also our article on Diabetes)

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