Yoga makes brains nimble, too

August 19, 2014
August 19, 2014

Yoga has long been touted as a way to improve physical health and mental wellbeing, but it may also make you better at your job—or your retirement activities. Practicing hatha yoga three times a week improved older Americans’ information recall, mental flexibility and task-switching, according to a study released this week.

The 61 new yogis who participated in the study were between 55 and 79 years old, and attended yoga classes three times a week for eight weeks. Another group of people met for the same amount of time, but practiced general toning and stretching exercises. They saw no significant change in cognitive function over that time.

Hatha, the most common kind of yoga taught in the US, focused on poses called “asanas” and breathing techniques. Previous research has demonstrated that these movements and the focus on breathing can reduce stress and anxiety, and that lower stress may have contributed to the better results, according to the study.

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If you’re looking to get into yoga to sharpen those mental skills, finding classes or videos to get you started isn’t difficult in the US—Americans spend $27 billion a year on yoga products and there were 20.4 million people practicing yoga in the US in 2012.

Older adults were in the minority as of 2008, and experts advise that if you’re going to start yoga at an older age it is important to be cautious. Start with basic poses and breathing exercises, and make sure to modify the poses to avoid putting undue strain on your neck and head.

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