Tai chi as a treatment for type 2 diabetes and cognitive decline: is it more effective than walking? 2023

A new study found that tai chi chuan delayed cognitive deterioration in type 2 diabetics with mild cognitive impairment better than brisk jogging. A randomized clinical research at Fuzhou’s Fujian University of Traditional Chinese Medicine showed the martial art’s cognitive benefits.

Tai chi chuan delayed cognitive decline in type 2 diabetics better than walking.

T2D often causes mild cognitive impairment (MCI) that is distinct from age-related cognitive decline.

Walking vs. Tai Chi

328 T2D/MCI patients over 60 were studied. Participants attended a 30-minute diabetes self-management program every four weeks for 24 weeks.

Three groups were randomly selected. The first group learned 24-form simplified Tai chi chuan. The second group practiced moderate-intensity fitness walking. Both groups did 60-minute supervised tai chi or walking three times a week for 24 weeks.

The third group, the control, received no Tai chi or fitness-walking instruction.

Tai chi and walking outperformed the control group on cognitive tests after 24 and 36 weeks.

At 24 weeks, both workout groups scored similarly. By 36 weeks, Tai chi outperformed fitness walking in cognitive ability, suggesting a longer-term effect.

After 36 weeks, Tai chi participants scored 1.90 points higher than the control group on the 30-point Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) scale for global cognition, 0.84 points higher than the fitness walking group.

Tai chi?

Tai chi, a martial art, is popular among the elderly in China as a non-combat sport. Tai chi instructors easily shift from pose to pose. The study included 24 versions of Tai chi.

Tai chi is a relaxing activity for middle-aged and older individuals since students are encouraged to perfect stances and transitions.

The study calls Tai chi exercise. According to Pamela Kelley Elend of the Seattle School of Tai Chi, Tai chi is not exercise but movement that exercises the body.

Fitness walking metabolic equivalent

“So there’s probably something metabolically going on,” said Pacific Neuroscience Institute researcher Ryan Glatt. This study involved T2D patients with MCI.

Health experts advocate walking four kilometers per hour.

“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,” Glatt said.

He added that the study authors discovered their Tai chi sessions were similar to four metabolic equivalentsTrusted Source, the same as fitness walking.

Tai-chi and cognition

“We assume it must be the cognitive demands of Tai chi, where you’re memorizing choreography, paying attention, and 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.

Kelley Elend remarked that learning new abilities keeps the brain engaged and increases brain connections.

Tai chi “allows movement to initiate from the body—as opposed to the brain driving movement,” she said.

Tai Chi improves cognition

Glatt noted that Tai chi cognitive benefits outweighed fitness walking at 36 weeks but not 24 weeks.

He claimed, “More thoughtful exercise or more cognitively engaging exercise will be more cognitively beneficial over time.”

He wondered if the study’s MoCA test was fine-grained enough to effectively indicate Tai chi and walking’s benefits after 24 or 36 weeks.

They could have used better measures to explain these changes. Different measures may help them improve faster and differentiate. He stated, “If they use that way of assessing cognition, it’s not surprising that it took so long to show an improvement.”

Tai chi may also be more sustainable for T2D-related MCI.

“It may also be that movement is sustainable over time, [while] exercise is not, in the same way that a diet is not,” Kelley Elend said.

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