Yoga health benefits extend to the brain

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
New study shows yoga boosts brain power
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If you’re looking for an instant brain boost, yoga seems to be the way to go. New research shows a 20 minute bout of yoga improved female students’ ability to process, retain and use new information better than the same amount of aerobic exercise. The finding adds to a growing list of yoga health benefits.

Researchers from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign looked at the mental health effects of yoga that involved 20-minutes of seated, standing and supine yoga postures with regulated breathing and isometric muscle contraction.

Study participants meditated and engaged in deep breathing at the end of the session.

The researchers say they wanted to explore the health benefits of yoga because it is becoming so popular, making it ‘imperative’ to understand what the activity has to offer.

As a comparison, the participants also performed aerobic exercise before being tested. Each of the 30 participants walked or jogged on a treadmill, to maintain 60 to 70 percent of her maximum heart rate that has been shown in the past to boost cognitive performance.

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Neha Gothe, who led the study while a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign said yoga seemed to help the participants “…focus their mental resources, process information quickly, more accurately and also learn, hold and update pieces of information more effectively than after performing an aerobic exercise bout.”

Gothe says some of the reasons yoga gives the brain a boost might include:

  1. Lower stress that helps test performance
  2. Yoga breathing and postures that teach mindfulness that extend beyond the practice itself
  3. Enhance self-awareness

Other suggested health benefits of yoga that have been studied include:

Yoga is still being studied as a way to better health. The new finding that appears in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health shows a 20-minute session can boost brain power better than aerobic exercise that can be added to the list of other yoga health benefits.

Reference:
JPAH
"The Acute Effects of Yoga on Executive Function"
Neha Gothe, et al.
May, 2013

Image credit: Pixabay

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