Yoga May Bulk Up the Brain as We Age

Yoga is a mindfulness practice that brings intentional focus to the breath, mind, and body. So, it may come as no surprise that, in addition to improving flexibility and physical performance, according to new research it may also have positive effects on the brain. The study focused on older women and was published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. It included two groups of 21 healthy women who were at least 60 and were matched in age, years of education, and level of physical activity. A key difference, however, was that one group had practiced hatha yoga at least twice weekly for the eight years prior to the study and the other group had never practiced yoga, meditation, or other mind-body interventions. Using brain imaging, researchers measured the thickness of the brain’s cortex in each participant. They also administered several tests to evaluate the women’s performance of daily living activities and cognitive function, depression symptoms, and height and weight. Researchers found that:

  • Compared with the non-yoga practitioners, the yoga practitioners showed significantly greater cortical thickness in prefrontal regions of the brain associated with attention and executive function, but there were no differences in cortical thickness of other brain regions.
  • There were no significant differences between the two groups on the other test results or in height and weight.

These findings indicate that yoga may strengthen and preserve the structure of brain regions related to cognitive function as we age. Yoga requires focused attention on muscles and posture, and this controlled attention and awareness engages the prefrontal cortex. Meditation, which also involves controlled attention, has been found in prior research to increase blood flow to the prefrontal cortex and increase cognitive function. Future research may show us whether yoga’s effects on brain structure translate into prevention of age-related cognitive losses.

Source: Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience

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