The Effect of Tai Chi Chuan on Emotional Health: Potential Mechanisms and Prefrontal Cortex Hypothesis

Author: Ying Yao1,2, Likun Ge1,2, Qian Yu3, Xiaohong Du4, Xiangyang Zhang1, Ruth Taylor-Piliae5, Gao-Xia Wei1,2,6
1 Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China.
2 Department of Psychology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China.
3 Department of Child Rehabilitation, The Fifth Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University, Zhengzhou, Henan, China.
4 College of Physical Education and Sports, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China.
5 College of Nursing, University of Arizona, Tucson, USA.
6 Key Laboratory of Behavioral Science, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China.
Conference/Journal: Evid Based Complement Alternat Med
Date published: 2021 Apr 30
Other: Volume ID: 2021 , Pages: 5549006 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1155/2021/5549006. , Word Count: 228

Deep involvement in the negative mood over long periods of time likely results in emotional disturbances/disorders and poor mental health. Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) is regarded as a typical mind-body practice combining aerobic exercise and meditation to prevent and treat negative mood. Although there are an increasing number of TCC studies examining anxiety, depression, and mental stress, the mechanisms underlying these negative emotions are not fully understood. This review study examined TCC studies related to emotional health from both clinical patients and healthy individuals. Next, several potential mechanisms from physiological, psychological, and neurological perspectives were evaluated based on direct and indirect research evidence. We reviewed recent functional magnetic resonance imaging studies, which demonstrated changes in brain anatomy and function, mainly in the prefrontal cortex, following TCC practice. Finally, the effects of TCC on emotion/mental health is depicted with a prefrontal cortex hypothesis that proposed "an immune system of the mind" indicating the role of the prefrontal cortex as a flexible hub in regulating an individual's mental health. The prefrontal cortex is likely a key biomarker among the multiple complex neural correlates to help an individual manage negative emotions/mental health. Future research is needed to examine TCC effects on mental health by examining the relationship between the executive control system (mainly prefrontal cortex) and limbic network (including amygdala, insula, and hippocampal gyrus).

PMID: 34007290 PMCID: PMC8110391 DOI: 10.1155/2021/5549006