Yoga Can Sharpen Your Mind

Regular practice of yoga can improve older adults’ performance of cognitive tasks, according to new research.

Investigators from the University of Illinois found that eight weeks of hatha yoga classes, three times a week, led to speedier and more accurate performance on tests of information recall, mental flexibility and task-switching than before the patients had taken the yoga class.

The study looked at 108 adults between 55 and 79 years of age. Among that group, 61 attended hatha yoga classes. The remaining participants met for the same number of sessions but did stretching and toning exercises instead of yoga.

In contrast to the results from the yoga group, the stretching-and-toning group saw no significant change in cognitive performance. The differences seen between the groups were not the result of differences in age, gender, social status or other demographic factors, the research team reported.

Hatha yoga involves meditation and focused breathing while performing a series of postures, said Neha Gothe, who led the study with University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Edward McAuley.

“Hatha yoga requires focused effort in moving through the poses, controlling the body and breathing at a steady rate,” said Gothe, now a professor of kinesiology at Wayne State University in Detroit. “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,” McAuley said. “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.”

The team findings were reported in The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.

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