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Practice yoga for a healthier mind

September 16, 2014

You may have heard that yoga helps improve physical abilities like flexibility and balance. But recent research shows that the exercise also includes some major cognitive benefits. According to a study published in the Journals of Gerontology, it can significantly boost brain function in older adults. It's a great healthy aging activity for seniors who seek an exercise that includes their total body and concentration.

Pose your way to better cognition

The study included 108 adults who ranged in age from 55 to 79. A little more than half engaged in eight weeks of yoga classes, while the remainder practiced other exercises for the same amount of time. Those who took the yoga classes ended up scoring higher on memory and other cognitive tests. After just 24 sessions of the mind and body activity, participants experienced noticeable improvements to their brain function.

"It is possible that this focus on one's body, mind and breath during yoga practice may have generalized to situations outside of the yoga classes, resulting in an improved ability to sustain attention," said lead researcher Neha Gothe.

Because of the significant cognitive benefits of yoga, it can be a good idea to include it in the early stages of memory care. The Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation recommended those with dementia to participate in Kirtan Kriya, a form of the exercise that involves singing, deep breathing and extreme focus.

How to start boosting your brain function

The best part about yoga is that it can be practiced anytime and anywhere. Meditation, a main part of the exercise, can be performed while you're lying in bed, washing dishes in your kitchen or sitting on the couch in your living room. The more physical components of the exercise can also be practiced in the comfort of your home and don't necessarily require a gym with a formal leader, though some people may prefer it that way.

To get started, go online and see which classes and groups are available in your area or, if you're a part of an assisted or independent living community, check there. If you'd prefer to try it on your own, there are many resources for you to do so. Websites devoted to the practice and YouTube videos can teach you how to do certain poses and breathing techniques without the help of an instructor. Just be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new kinds of exercise or health programs.