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Hatha Yoga Boosts Brain Function In Older Adults, Study Suggests

08/19/2014 10:46 am ET | Updated Aug 19, 2014
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Seeking some inner peace? A new study suggests that hatha yoga not only helps you relax, but also may boost brain function in older adults.

Researchers studied 108 adults between the ages of 55 and 79, 61 of whom attended hatha yoga classes. The others met for the same number and length of sessions and participated in stretching and toning exercises -- but not yoga. At the end of eight weeks, the group that did yoga three times a week performed better on cognitive tests than it had before the start of yoga classes.

The group that did stretching and toning displayed no significant change in cognitive performance over time. In addition, researchers say the differences seen between the groups were not the result of age, gender, social status or other similar factors.

"Hatha yoga requires focused effort in moving through the poses, controlling the body and breathing at a steady rate," said Neha Gothe, who led the study with University of Illinois professor Edward McAuley, in a press release. "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." Gothe is now a professor at Wayne State University.

McAuley noted that participants in the yoga group displayed significant improvements in working memory capacity. "They were also able to perform the task at hand quickly and accurately, without getting distracted," he said in a press release. "These mental functions are relevant to our everyday functioning, as we multitask and plan our day-to-day activities."

More than 20 million Americans practice yoga, according to the 2012 Yoga in America study. Hatha yoga is an ancient form that emphasizes physical postures and breathing control.

Over the years, all sorts of health benefits have been attributed to yoga. Previous studies have shown that yoga can boost one's immune system, ease migraines and help people sleep better.

Researchers emphasized that the results of the new study are only preliminary and that more research is needed.

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