According to a study conducted by researchers at Illinois, practicing hatha yoga three times a week can dramatically improve brain power in older adults. The study which appeared in the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences found that older adults performed tasks like information recall, mental flexibility and task-switching much better than they previously did after practicing yoga.
The study was conducted over an 8 week period and observed 108 adults between ages 55 and 79 years, 61 of whom attended hatha yoga classes. The others met for the same number and length of sessions and engaged in stretching and toning exercises instead of yoga.
At the end of the eight weeks, the yoga group was speedier and more accurate on tests of information recall, mental flexibility and task-switching than it had been before the intervention. The stretching-and-toning group saw no significant change in cognitive performance over time.
Neha Gothe, professor at Wayne State University said, "It is possible that this focus on one's body, mind and breath during yoga practice may have generalised to situations outside of the yoga classes, resulting in an improved ability to sustain attention." Hatha yoga is an ancient spiritual practice that involves meditation and focused breathing while an individual moves through a series of stylised postures. Participants in the yoga intervention group showed significant improvements in working memory capacity that involves continuous upgrade and manipulation of information.
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," added co-author professor Edward McAuley from University of Illinois.
According to Gothe, yoga has an immediate quieting effect on the sympathetic nervous system and on the body's response to stress.
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", she noted. With inputs from IANS