In recent years, a lot of ink has been devoted to “super foods” and “brain foods.” Yoga might justifiably be labeled the exercise equivalent.
The fitness benefits of yoga ““ including improved balance, strength and flexibility are well-documented. Likewise, many studies have looked at yoga’s ability to decrease stress and anxiety and improve overall mood. Yoga’s even been shown to reduce risk factors for chronic conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic.
But a growing body of research suggests yoga may also be good for your brain.
Yoga for depression.
A number of studies indicate yoga can help people cope with depression. In one study, 20 sessions of yoga as a complementary treatment led to an elevation of mood and reduction of anger and anxiety in participants with major depression. While a second study of young adults with mild depression found attending two hour-long yoga classes each week for five weeks improved participants’ mood and reduced feelings of anxiety and fatigue. Other research indicates yoga may help patients with other psychiatric disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Yoga for memory.
Studies of both college students and adults older than 55 have shown yoga and meditation improve memory. Researchers at the University of Illinois found 20 minutes of yoga improved students’ reaction time and accuracy in tests of cognitive function. Researchers at the University of California Los Angles (UCLA), who studied the older adults, say the yoga meditation exercise they studied (Kirtan Kriya) likely improves “brain fitness” by reducing stress and inflammation, improving mood and resilience, and enhancing production of a protein that stimulates connections between neurons and kick-starts the process for replacing lost or damaged genetic material.
Protecting the aging brain.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has shown experienced yoga practitioners have less age-related gray matter decline than do non-practitioners, indicating yoga has “potential neuroprotective effects.”
Interested in giving yoga a shot? You can find a class at nearly any gym or senior center, but talk to the instructor before you sign up about the class expectations. There are many types of yoga, ranging from gentle and meditative to highly demanding. Alternatively, visit the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation’s web site for instructions on a 12-minute yoga mediation exercise.