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Improved brain performance through yoga
An analysis of various studies showed that yoga improves many brain structures and functions. The effects are comparable to aerobics.
The current study by the University of Illinois found that yoga can help improve brain functions and structures. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "Brain Plasticity".
Eleven studies were evaluated
The published review focused on eleven studies on the relationship between yoga and brain health. Each of the studies used so-called brain imaging techniques such as MRI. The participants performed hatha yoga. This form of yoga includes body movement, meditation, and breathing exercises.
Exercise and yoga affect the same regions in the brain
By analyzing the eleven studies, some brain regions were identified that were repeatedly challenged by yoga. These regions are the same, which is also positively influenced by other movements.
Volume of the hippocampus increased
For example, yoga has observed an increase in the volume of the hippocampus. Many studies looking at the brain effects of aerobic exercise have shown a similar increase in the size of the hippocampus over time.
What is the hippocampus?
The hippocampus is involved in memory processing and is known to shrink with age. It is also the structure that first affects dementia and Alzheimer's.
Other effects of yoga on the brain
There have also been other important brain changes associated with performing yoga regularly. The amygdala, a brain structure that contributes to emotional regulation, tends to be slightly larger in people performing yoga. The prefrontal cortex, the cingulate cortex and various brain networks also tend to be larger or more efficient when people practice yoga regularly.
Benefits for learning and memory through yoga?
The prefrontal cortex is essential for planning, decision making, and multitasking. Like the amygdala, the cingular cortex is part of the limbic system, a cycle of structures that play a key role in emotional regulation, learning, and memory.
Improved results in cognitive tests
Ascertained changes in the brain that have occurred in individuals who practice yoga are associated with improved performance in cognitive tests or measurements of emotional regulation.
What does yoga do for you?
The discovery that yoga can have similar brain effects to aerobics is fascinating and requires further investigation. Since yoga is not aerobic, there must be other mechanisms that lead to these brain changes, the researchers report. So far there is insufficient evidence to identify what exactly these mechanisms are.
What role does stress play?
Improving emotional regulation is believed to be a key to the positive effects of yoga on the brain. Various studies combine stress in humans and animals with shrinking of the hippocampus and poorer performance in memory tests
Yoga makes it easier for people to cope with stress
People who had been doing yoga for eight weeks showed a weakened cortisol response to stress, which was associated with better performance in decision-making tests, job changes, and attention. Yoga helps people with or without anxiety disorders to cope with their stress.
More research is needed
Yoga helps improve emotional regulation to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. This appears to improve brain function. Yoga is beneficial for healthy brain function, large intervention studies should be conducted, with participants practicing yoga for months to confirm previous results. (as)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Neha P. Gothe, Imadha Khan, Jessica Hayes, Emily Erlenbach, Jessica S. Damoiseaux: Yoga Effects on Brain Health: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature, in Brain Plasticity (query: 13.12.2019), Brain Plasticity