You might think of yoga as a great practice to move around and stretch your body. Scientists, however, know it’s much more than that, as they continue to uncover new ways the ancient exercise benefits us beyond the physical self. A recent study indicated that yoga can help keep our brain health from declining as we age.
Researchers from the University of Illinois and Wayne State University in Michigan published their fascinating results in Brain Plasticity. The team gathered 11 different studies that used MRI scans to track structural changes in the brains of participants between 2009 and 2019. When looking at those who practiced yoga at least twice a week, they found a positive correlation to the function of their hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex, and other brain networks — all areas which deal with memory and age-related neurodegeneration.
The researchers were particularly impressed by the results of those who practiced Hatha yoga, which combines physical movements, breathing exercises, and meditation. “We believe one of the key mechanisms could be that regular yoga practice impacts emotional regulation,” study author Neha Gothe told CNBC. “So, a combination of the three core elements of yoga seems to have an impact on the brain structure and function.”
More studies are needed to further confirm these findings, but early indicators of a link between physical and mental benefits are cause for optimism. The amount of yoga you’ll need in order to receive these benefits will vary from person to person, but Gothe claims most of us can strengthen our brains by doing it just once or twice a week for 10 to 24 weeks.
That doesn’t sound too difficult, does it? Plus, you might find yourself getting even more benefits like stress relief and blood sugar management. As always, check with your doctor before taking up new exercise protocols. But after your given the green light, it’s Namaste all the way.