Although hatha yoga—the exercise-based yoga—has many physical benefits, such as flexibility and muscle strengthening, researchers from the University of Illinois wanted to find out how it impacted on brain health.
They took another look at 11 studies—where participants' brains were monitored with MRI scans while they took part in courses of yoga—and discovered the exercises were helping to maintain the hippocampus, which is associated with memory processing.
The hippocampus can shrink as we get older, affecting our ability to remember events, and it's often the first structure in the brain that deteriorates with dementia and Alzheimer's.
Another area of the brain, the amygdala, which helps regulate emotions, tended to be larger in yoga practitioners, as were the prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex and some of the brain's networks.
The prefrontal cortex helps us plan and make decisions, the researchers said.
The brain's physical improvements were played out in cognitive tests where practitioners often outperformed people who didn't use the exercise.
The researchers were surprised by the results, which found that yoga was as good for brain health as aerobic exercise.
"Yoga isn't aerobic, so there must be other mechanisms leading to these brain changes", said researcher Neha Gothe.
One possibility is that yoga helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and this may be having a positive impact on the brain.
The Get Well Show
If you are keen to learn more on some of the conditions mentioned in this topic, the Get Well Show is your chance to hear from some of the leading minds in alternative medicine.
Regular WDDTY contributor, Charlotte Watts, will be running a yoga and somatics session to help relieve stress & burnout on Sunday, February 23rd.