University of Illinois Study Suggests Yoga Improves Brain Function in Older Adults

University of Illinois Study Suggests Yoga Improves Brain Function in Older Adults
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August 29, 2014

Older adults who want to boost their brain power, might want to consider signing up for a yoga class at their local YMCA.

A study out of the University of Illinois suggests that yoga, hatha yoga in particular, improves brain function and improves regular, daily cognitive tasks.

One of the more-popular forms of yoga, hatha yoga is a spiritual and physical practice that involves controlled breathing while moving through a variety of poses.

"Hatha yoga requires focused effort in moving through the poses, controlling the body and breathing at a steady rate," said Neha Gothe one of the study's lead researchers. "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."

University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Edward McAuley and Beckman Institute director Arthur Kramer also contributed to the study.

According to a release from the university, the study involved 108 adults between the ages of 55 and 79, 61 of whom attended hatha yoga classes. The others engaged in stretching and toning exercises.

At the end of the eight-week study, the yoga group performed better on tests of information recall, mental flexibility and task-switching than it had before beginning classes. The other group saw no significant change in cognitive performance.

Previous studies have found that yoga can have immediate positive psychological effects by decreasing anxiety, depression and stress, Gothe said.

"These studies suggest that yoga has an immediate quieting effect on the sympathetic nervous system and on the body's response to stress," she added. "Since we know that stress and anxiety can affect cognitive performance, the eight-week yoga intervention may have boosted participants' performance by reducing their stress."

Despite the positive results of the study, the Wall Street Journal reports that more people are buying yoga apparel, but aren't actually participating in the exercise. Yoga apparel sales were up 45 percent in 2013, but yoga participation only grew 4.5 percent.

As yoga studio owner Karen Score said in the Journal's report, "Everyone is wearing yoga pants, even people who aren't doing it."