Acute Tai Chi Chuan exercise enhances sustained attention and elicits increased cuneus/precuneus activation in young adults

Author: Rongrong Chen1, Shilei Wang1,2, Yajun Fan3, Xianfa Liu3, Jinhui Wang4, Yating Lv5, Dongmin Wang6, Dong Wu3, Wentian Cao2, Qihong Zou1,7
1 Center for MRI Research, Academy for Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies, Peking University, 5 Yiheyuan Road, Haidian District, Beijing, 100871, China.
2 Beijing City Key Lab for Medical Physics and Engineering, Institution of Heavy Ion Physics, School of Physics, Peking University, 5 Yiheyuan Road, Haidian District, Beijing, 100871, China.
3 China Wushu School, Beijing Sport University, 84 Xinxi Road, Haidian District, Beijing, 100084, China.
4 Institute for Brain Research and Rehabilitation, South China Normal University, 55 West of Zhongshan Avenue, Tianhe District, Guangzhou, 510631, China.
5 Center for Cognition and Brain Disorders, The Affiliated Hospital of Hangzhou Normal University, 126 Wenzhou Road, Hangzhou, 310015, China.
6 Department of Physical Education, Peking University, 5 Yiheyuan Road, Haidian District, Beijing, 100871, China.
7 National Clinical Research Center for Mental Disorders (Peking University Sixth Hospital), 51 Huayuanbei Road, Haidian District, Beijing, 100191 China.
Conference/Journal: Cereb Cortex
Date published: 2022 Jun 19
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhac254. , Word Count: 212

The potential for acute exercise to enhance attention has been discussed in the literature. However, the neural mechanisms by which acute exercise affects attention remain elusive.

In this study, we first identified an optimized acute Tai Chi Chuan (ATCC) exercise protocol that enhances sustained attention performance and then aimed to determine the neural substrates of exercise-enhanced attention. Reaction time (RT) from the psychomotor vigilance test (PVT) was used to evaluate sustained attention. In Experiment 1, improvements in RTs were compared among six different exercise protocols. In Experiment 2, the participants completed the PVT in an MRI scanner on both rest and exercise days.

Experiment 1 showed that practicing TCC 3 times for a total of 20 minutes, followed by 10-minute rest periods, resulted in the largest improvements in RTs. Experiment 2 showed that ATCC enhanced sustained attention, as evidenced by shorter RTs, and resulted in greater cuneus/precuneus activation after exercise than in the rest condition. Exercise-induced changes in brain activities across a distributed network exhibited significant correlations with attention.

Therefore, this study indicates that ATCC effectively enhances sustained attention and underscores the key role of the cuneus/precuneus and frontoparietal-cerebellar regions in facilitating vigilance among young adults.

Keywords: acute Tai Chi Chuan; cuneus/precuneus; exercise; functional MRI; sustained attention.

PMID: 35718539 DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhac254