Measuring the Effects of Exercise on the Mind and Body using Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy

Awardee Recipients

  • James Balschi, PhD

    James Balschi, PhD

    Director of the Physiological NMR Core Laboratory and Associate Professor of Medicine

    Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School

    Dr. Balschi is the director of the Physiological NMR Core Laboratory in the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is an Associate editor of Circulation.


  • Alexander Lin, PhD

    Alexander Lin, PhD

    Director of the Center for Clinical Spectroscopy, Department of Radiology

    Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School

    Dr. Lin is the director of the Center for Clinical Spectroscopy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Assistant Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Lin is a graduate of the California Institute of Technology, where he completed...


  • 2014 - Pilot Grant

Mind-body exercises such as tai chi has been shown to improve both mental1 and physical health2. As a result, recent literature suggests the use of tai chi and other mind-body exercises to treat both physical3–5 and psychological disorders6–10. However the beneficial mechanisms of mind-body exercises are not well- understood. Non-invasive and objective measures are required to better understand the physiological changes that the brain and body undergo during tai chi training.

Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) utilizes the same MR scanners as MRI, however, instead of obtaining images, it measures endogenous chemicals non-invasively, thus providing a “virtual biopsy” of body tissues. In leg muscle, MRS can quantify mitochondrial function by measuring the rate of  recovery of phosphocreatine (PCr) following exercise11. In the brain, MRS can measure concentrations of  different metabolites that report biochemicalprocesses12. Together these measures can be used to track changes in the brain and muscle due to an intervention such as tai chi, mindfulness based stress reduction, etc. The goal of this project is to develop a combined brain-muscle MR spectroscopy examination to determine the changes that occur in brain metabolites and muscle energetics after mind-body exercise intervention in the aging population with the following

Specific Aims.

  1. Determine in muscle health improves by comparing PCr recovery rates (a measure of mitochondrial function) before and after tai chi. Our hypothesis is that the rate of PCr recovery will be faster indicating improved muscle energetics following tai chi.
  2. Determine if brain health improves by measuring brain metabolite concentrations before and after tai chi. Our hypothesis is that markers of inflammation, neuroplasticity, and brain function will improve after tai chi.
  1. Determine the relationship between muscle energetics and brain biomarkers of neuroplasticity, inflammation, and function by correlation analysis of PCr recovery rates and respective brain metabolite concentrations.

There are several major advantages of MRS: 1) it is noninvasive, using the same technology as MRI but without contrast agents; 2) it is quantitative, providing direct measures of metabolism rates or concentrations; 3) it is objective. Given these advantages, MRS is ideal for treatment monitoring.  Development of this technology in this proposal will enable future studies with other integrative technologies.



1 Wayne PM, Walsh JN, Taylor-Piliae RE, et al. Effect of tai chi on cognitive performance in older adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis. J. Am. Geriatr. Soc. 2014;62(1):25–39.
2 Li F, Fisher KJ, Harmer P, McAuley E. Delineating the impact of Tai Chi training on physical function among the elderly. Am. J. Prev. Med. 2002;23(2 SUPPL. 1):92–97.
3 Yeh GY, Wang C, Wayne PM, Phillips R. Tai chi exercise for patients with cardiovascular conditions and risk factors: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW. J. Cardiopulm. Rehabil. Prev. 2009;29(3):152–160.
4 Yeh GY, Wood MJ, Lorell BH, et al. Effects of tai chi mind-body movement therapy on functional status and exercise capacity in patients with chronic heart failure: a randomized controlled trial, Am. J. Med. 2004;117(8):541–548.
5 Yeh GY, Wang C, Wayne PM, Phillips RS. The effect of Tai Chi exercise on blood pressure: A systematic review. Prev. Cardiol. 2008;11(2):82–89.
6 Song Q-H, Shen G-Q, Xu R-M, et al. Effect of Tai Chi exercise on the physical and mental health of the elder patients suffered from anxiety disorder. Int. J. Physiol. Pathophysiol. Pharmacol. 2014;6(1):55–60.
7 Hackney ME, Earhart GM. Tai Chi improves balance and mobility in people with Parkinson disease. Gait Posture. 2008;28(3):456–460.
8 Hernandez-Reif M, Field TM, Thimas E. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Benefits from Tai Chi. J. Bodyw. Mov. Ther. 2001;5(2):120–123.
9 Valenzuela M, Sachdev P. Can cognitive exercise prevent the onset of dementia? Systematic review of randomized clinical trials with longitudinal follow-up. Am. J. Geriatr. Psychiatry. 2009;17(3):179–187.
10 Yeung A, Lepoutre V, Wayne P, et al. Tai Chi Treatment for Depression in Chinese Americans. Am. J. Phys. Med. Rehabil. 2012;91(10):863–870.
11 Chance B Im J, Nioka S, Kushmerick M. Skeletal muscle energetics with PNMR: personal views and historic perspectives. 2006. NMR Biomed. 19(7)904-26. Rev.
12 Lin A, Ross BD, Harris K, Wong W. Efficacy of proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy in neurological diagnosis and neurotherapeutic decision making. NeuroRx. 2005;2(2):197–214.



Zhou M, Liao H, Sreepada LP, Ladner JR, Balshi JA, Lin AP. Tai Chi Improves Brain Metabolism and Muscle Energetics in Older Adults. J Neuroimaging. 2018 Apr 17. doi: 1111/jon.12515 

Rowland B, Merugumala SK, Liao H, Creager MA, Balschi J, Lin AP. Spectral improvement by fourier thresholding of in vivo dynamic spectroscopy data. Magn Reson Med. 2016 Sep;76(3):978-85. doi: 10.1002/mrm.25976