Studies have shown that Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) training has benefits on task-switching ability. However, the neural correlates underlying the effects of TCC training on task-switching ability remain unclear. Using task-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with a numerical Stroop paradigm, we investigated changes of prefrontal brain activation and behavioral performance during task-switching before and after TCC training and examined the relationships between changes in brain activation and task-switching behavioral performance. Cognitively normal older adults were randomly assigned to either the TCC or control (CON) group. Over a 12-week period, the TCC group received three 60-min sessions of Yang-style TCC training weekly, whereas the CON group only received one telephone consultation biweekly and did not alter their life style. All participants underwent assessments of physical functions and neuropsychological functions of task-switching, and fMRI scans, before and after the intervention. Twenty-six (TCC, N = 16; CON, N = 10) participants completed the entire experimental procedure. We found significant group by time interaction effects on behavioral and brain activation measures. Specifically, the TCC group showed improved physical function, decreased errors on task-switching performance, and increased left superior frontal activation for Switch > Non-switch contrast from pre- to post-intervention, that were not seen in the CON group. Intriguingly, TCC participants with greater prefrontal activation increases in the switch condition from pre- to post-intervention presented greater reductions in task-switching errors. These findings suggest that TCC training could potentially provide benefits to some, although not all, older adults to enhance the function of their prefrontal activations during task-switching.
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