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Aug 18, 2014 01:41 PM EDT

Hatha Yoga May Improve Brain Function in Older Adults

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Hatha yoga boosts brain function in older adults, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that practicing hatha yoga three times a week for eight weeks improved sedentary older adults' performance on cognitive tasks that are relevant to everyday life.

Hatha yoga is an ancient spiritual practice that involves meditation and focused breathing while an individual moves through a series of stylized postures.

"Hatha yoga requires focused effort in moving through the poses, controlling the body and breathing at a steady rate," Neha Gothe, leader of the study, said in a statement. "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."

For the study, researchers collected data from 108 adults between the ages of 55 and 79 years of age, 61 of whom attended hatha yoga classes. The others met for the same number and length of sessions and engaged in stretching and toning exercises instead of yoga.

At the end of the eight weeks, the yoga group was speedier and more accurate on tests of information recall, mental flexibility and task-switching than it had been before the intervention. The stretching-and-toning group saw no significant change in cognitive performance over time. The differences seen between the groups were not the result of differences in age, gender, social status or other demographic factors, the research team reported.

"Participants in the yoga intervention group showed significant improvements in working memory capacity, which involves continually updating and manipulating information," researcher Edward McAuley said in a statement. "They were also able to perform the task at hand quickly and accurately, without getting distracted. These mental functions are relevant to our everyday functioning, as we multitask and plan our day-to-day activities."

Previous studies have found that yoga can have immediate positive psychological effects by decreasing anxiety, depression and stress, Gothe said.

The findings were recently published in the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.

© 2017 University Herald, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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