Meditation training has been shown to positively affect executive attention function. Moderate aerobic exercise has also been shown to improve executive attention function. Tai Chi requires moderate aerobic exertion, is considered a form of moving meditation, and requires motor learning. Motor learning engages executive function. Thus, Tai Chi can be expected to positively affect executive attention. This study compared the executive attention efficiency of long-term Tai Chi, meditation, aerobic fitness, and sedentary participants. We hypothesized that because meditation and Tai Chi training include explicit executive attention training, these groups would show significantly greater executive attention efficiency vs aerobic exercise or sedentary controls. Further, we predicted that participants trained in Tai Chi would show the most efficient executive performance because Tai Chi requires meditative concentration, complex motor learning, and moderate aerobic exertion. Each group was evaluated for gross motor coordination skill, aerobic capacity (estimated VO2max; Kline, 1987), and sustained attentional focus (Smallwood, 2009) to establish training effects. To assess executive attention function, a visuo-spatial task switch test was used (Mayr, 2009). Percent switch costs (an index of executive efficiency) was the key measure. Results show that Tai Chi (p=.001) and meditation (p=.0016) but not aerobic fitness practitioners (p=.246) significantly outperform sedentary controls on the switch costs measure. These results support our hypothesis that participants trained in Tai Chi or meditation would show significantly greater executive attention efficiency vs aerobic exercise or sedentary controls.

Teresa Hawkes

University of Oregon

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