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Grab Your Yoga Mat for Brain Health

A woman leaning forward to stretch her legs on a yoga mat
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

Yoga’s popularity is on the rise, as is the list of its potential benefits. Flexibility? Check. Strength? Check. Balance? Check. But what about brain health?

Regular yoga practice may help slow age-related mental decline, suggests a review of 11 studies that used brain imaging. Participants in most of the studies did Hatha yoga — which involves traditional yoga poses, meditation and breathing exercises — but the changes in brain structure were similar to those that occur from aerobic exercise, such as walking or bicycling. Among the researchers’ findings: Practicing yoga led to growth in the hippocampus and the amygdala, two areas of the brain important for memory and emotion.

Neha Gothe, one of the review’s coauthors, suspects that yoga’s ability to calm and relax people may be key to its positive effects on the brain. She and other researchers also found that long-term yoga practice appears to improve markers of chronic stress and inflammation, all helpful for cognition.

What you can do:

  • First check with your doctor. As with any exercise regimen, check with your doctor before trying yoga, especially if you suffer from a chronic condition or have been very inactive.
  • Choose an in-person or online class. If taking yoga classes at a studio or community center is a challenge, check out online yoga videos you can do at home.
  • Try adaptive yoga. Those with limited mobility can do yoga through adaptive practices. In chair yoga, movements are done seated. Water yoga, done in a swimming pool, can help those needing a low-impact exercise that doesn’t place extra pressure on joints.

For more on yoga’s effects on the brain, read this article in Staying Sharp.

This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

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