Critter Corner: Does Tai Chi Boost Your Memory? 

Hayek 1Dear Hayek, 

A friend of mine does tai chi once a week because she says that it is good for boosting memory. If this is the case, I will sign up myself! Do you know of any research to corroborate her claim?  

Thanks for your help! 

Ty Chee 


Dear Ty, 

Exercise is widely known to be beneficial to both our bodies and our brains. The World Health Organization suggests that about two hours of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week can help improve thinking and memory skills. 

Tai chi is a slow-moving form of martial arts that has been shown to improve balance and prevent falls. As your friend mentioned, tai chi is also particularly good for boosting memory. In fact, a new study finds that tai chi can help slow cognitive decline and protect against dementia.  

The study included about 300 older adults in their mid-70s, who had all reported that their memory was not as good as it used to be. As part of the study, participants took a 10-minute test, called the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, to assess cognitive function. A normal score is 26-30, while a person who scores between 18 and 25 is considered to have mild impairment. The average score of participants at the start of the study was 25. A person with mild cognitive decline can expect to lose, on average, about a half point each year on the test, and once their score drops under 18, people experience quite a bit of impairment from memory loss and cognitive decline. 

At a tai chi class held in Potomac, Maryland, participants practiced a simplified form of tai chi called Tai Ji Quan twice a week for about six months. Those who participated improved their score on the assessment by 1.5 points. This increase may not sound like a lot, but study author Dr. Elizabeth Eckstrom says “you’ve basically given yourself three extra years” of staving off decline. She said that based on these results, “(i)f 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.” 

Researchers also tested a more rigorous type of tai chi, called Cognitively Enhanced Tai Ji Quan, where they included extra challenges. For instance, participants were asked to spell a word, backward and forward, as they moved through a series of tai chi moves. The people who practice this type of cognitively enhanced tai chi improved their scores by about 3 points. “We’ve just given you six extra years of cognitive function,” Eckstrom says. “That’s a lot.” 

For those who have never done tai chi, it is a martial art that incorporates a series of movements, known as forms, with a focus on controlled breathing. It may look like nothing much is happening, but that’s a misconception. Participants work hard, and both the physical and mental benefits are certainly worth it!  

To find a tai chi class near you, you can simply Google “tai chi class near me” or check out the website of the Tai Chi for Health Institute, which offers specialized classes and lets you find teachers near you who run tai chi classes to help with rehabilitation, back pain, arthritis, and many other elements.  

Hope this helps! 


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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