Yoga Can Help Manage Mild Cognitive Impairment

yoga for brain healthA team of neuroscientists at the University of California in Los Angeles found that a three-month yoga and meditation course helped participants manage both the cognitive and emotional problems that arise prior to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. The team found that participating in the yoga course was more effective than simply completing memory-enhancing exercises.

The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, compared the outcomes from yoga and meditation versus memory training, which included a range of activities such as crossword puzzles and modern computer games. There were 25 participants in the study, all of whom were over the age of 55.

Many participants had reported issues with their memory, including forgetfulness with names, faces or appointments, as well as the tendency to misplace items. Participants took memory tests and underwent brain scans at the beginning and end of the study to measure changes in behavior and brain activity.

The participants were broken up into two groups. The first group of eleven participants were required to spend 20 minutes per day on memory exercises along with one hour per week of memory training with the research team. Memory exercises included verbal and visual association and other research-backed memory-enhancing techniques. The second group of fourteen participants were required to practice Kirtan Kriya meditation at home for 20 minutes per day along with a one-hour class once a week in Kundalini yoga. Kirtan Kriya meditation includes chanting, hand movements and visualization of light. This practice has also been known among other meditation and yoga practices to delay symptoms of cognitive decline.

The research team analyzed the groups after three months. They found that both groups had improvements in verbal memory skills. However, the group that practiced yoga had greater improvements in visual-spatial memory skills, which is important in recalling directions and places. The yoga group also had greater reductions in depression and anxiety and were able to improve their coping and stress management skills.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans indicated the same results. Both groups had improvements in functional connectivity but the yoga group had greater improvements that were proven to be statistically significant. The researchers conclude that the benefits of yoga far outweigh the benefits of brain training because mindfulness practices such as meditation improve mood, reduce stress and inflammation, and enhance brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor (BDNF), which is a protein that encourages the growth of connections between brain cells and helps replace lost or damaged genetic material.

The Cognitive Therapeutics Method Team recommends 15-20 minutes of daily meditation, yoga or prayer daily for optimal brain health! Learn more about the benefits of yoga and read our other brain health tips in our blog, “7 Tips for a Healthier Brain”.