If you are a yoga fan, you are probably well aware of how many physical benefits this practice can bring. Studies in the past have shown that yoga can help with weight loss, muscle building and toning, joint flexibility and health and even chronic painful conditions like fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. But did you know how much this ancient practice could also improve your mental health and abilities? A recent study of adults with mild memory loss showed just how healthy yoga is for your brain.
The Study and What it Found
Researchers, well aware of the physical benefits of yoga, sought to understand more about the mental/cognitive benefits of this exercise regimen. In order to do this, they recruited a group of middle-aged and older volunteers who had, upon interviewing, expressed concerns about their memories and had in fact been diagnosed with a mild form of cognitive decline, a condition that can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. These conditions, if they worsen, can have a serious and negative impact on a patient’s quality of life.
The researchers did a brain scan on all patients in order to establish a baseline for their mental activity/function. They then divided participants into two separate groups, one which received a one hour brain training session plus fifteen minutes of practice daily while the other received a one hour kundalini yoga session with fifteen minutes of at-home practice daily (in other words, both groups spent the same amount of time with these interventions each week).
At the end of this three month study, all the participants were given a brain scan again to see if the interventions had had any affect on their cognitive health. It was found that both groups of patients had experienced cognitive improvement in areas of the brain that affect memory and language skills. However, the group which participated in yoga also displayed improvement in areas of the brain which control concentration and attention; in other words, the yoga group also came out of this study with enhanced ability to focus and multitask, showing that yoga was superior to the brain training program to improve mental functions.
“We were a bit surprised by the magnitude of the brain effects,” noted Helen Lavretsky, the lead researcher in this study, when commenting upon the results.
The Study in Context
What is perhaps one of the most interesting parts of this study is that it does not stand alone. It is, rather, part of the growing body of evidence which shows that yoga’s mental/cognitive benefits may well equal or even exceed its physical ones.
In the past, for instance, similar clinical studies on yoga have found a positive link between this practice and depression and anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even serious psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. One study even found that this seemingly mild, gentle practice was actually better than aerobics at improving brain functions such as speed and accuracy of mental processing.
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In short, this study on patients with mild cognitive decline is simply part of a growing body of clinical evidence which shows that yoga, in addition to improving the health of the body, is able to improve the health of the mind as well, not only for problems like memory loss but for mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, ADHD and even more serious issues like schizophrenia. In short, this practice is a truly holistic method to improve all aspects of your health, apart from bringing a high degree of enjoyment and satisfaction to those who participated in it on the daily basis.
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