Hatha Yoga Keeps the Brain Sharp

First Posted: Aug 18, 2014 11:34 AM EDT

Many studies have shown the physical benefits of yoga. Now, recent findings published in the Journal of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences found that one type of yoga, in particular, could even improve cognitive performance in older adults.

For the study, researchers examined 108 adults between the ages of 55- and 79-years-old, 61 of whom attended hatha yoga classes, a type of exercise that involves "stilling" the mind and finding inner-peace through light exercise. Others met for the same number and length of sessions, but engaged in stretching and toning exercises instead of yoga.

At the end of the eight-week study period, the yoga group was much faster and provided more accurate test answers than those who had simply performed stretching and toning exercises. Researchers also noted that any differences seen between the groups were not a result of age, gender, social status or other demographic factors.

"Hatha yoga requires focused effort in moving through the poses, controlling the body and breathing at a steady rate," said lead study author Neha Gothe of the university, in a news release. "It is possible that this focus on one's body, mind and breath during yoga practice may have generalized to situations outside of the yoga classes, resulting in an improved ability to sustain attention."

"Participants in the yoga intervention group showed significant improvements in working memory capacity, which involves continually updating and manipulating information," added community health professor Edward McAuley. "They were also able to perform the task at hand quickly and accurately, without getting distracted. These mental functions are relevant to our everyday functioning, as we multitask and plan our day-to-day activities."

Previous studies have also demonstrated yoga's ability to lower levels associated with anxiety, depression and stress, overall. In turn, this can also help increase the potential for successful learning.

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