New research suggests that yoga and meditation may not only give you a flexible body and inner peace but a combination of the two could also help improve cognitive function.
The study, led by a team of researchers from UCLA and Australia’s University of Adelaide, is the first to compare yoga and meditation against memory training, which has often been considered the best way to manage mild cognitive impairment.
The team followed a group of 25 participants all aged 55 and over during a three-month course of either yoga and meditation or memory training.
Participants had all shown signs of mild cognitive impairment, reporting problems with their memory such as easily misplacing things, or forgetting names, faces or appointments.
Participants were split into two groups. Eleven participants attended memory enhancement training and practiced memory exercises daily, while the other 14 participants attended classes of Kundalini yoga and practiced 20 minutes of Kirtan Kriya meditation daily, which involves chanting, hand movements and visualization of light, and has already has been practiced in India for hundreds of years as a way to prevent cognitive decline in older adults.
All participants received brain scans and completed memory tests at both the beginning and end of the three months.
The results showed that although all participants demonstrated similar improvements in verbal memory skills, the skills that are needed for remembering names, it was the participants in the group who practiced yoga and meditation that showed better improvements in visual-spatial memory skills, which help with recalling locations and navigating.
In addition, participants in the yoga and meditation group also showed bigger improvements in levels of depression, anxiety, coping skills and resilience to stress, all of which are especially important when coming to terms with the onset of cognitive impairment.
Commenting on the significance of the results Harris Eyre, the study’s lead author, said, “Historically and anecdotally, yoga has been thought to be beneficial in aging well, but this is the scientific demonstration of that benefit. We’re converting historical wisdom into the high level of evidence required for doctors to recommend therapy to their patients.”
Senior author Helen Lavretsky added, “If you or your relatives are trying to improve your memory or offset the risk for developing memory loss or dementia, a regular practice of yoga and meditation could be a simple, safe and low-cost solution to improving your brain fitness.”