A research team in California has studied the impact of yoga on memory, mood and brain function in a small group of people with early memory and thinking problems. The study is funded on 10 May in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The researchers from the University of California in Los Angeles studied 25 participants who were over 55 and experiencing early memory and thinking problems called mild cognitive impairment or ‘MCI’. The volunteers were randomly assigned to receive either 12 weeks of memory training, which involved a programme of activities to learn and practise techniques to improve memory, or a yoga intervention that involved hour-long yoga classes each week with 12 minutes of daily meditation.
Participants were assessed for memory performance and mood before and after the 12-week intervention, as well as having MRI brain scans to look at the connectivity of nerve cell networks in the brain.
The team reported improvements in visuospatial memory and depression in those people assigned to the yoga intervention compared to the memory training programme. They also saw signs of increased connectivity in the brain in volunteers completing the yoga intervention. The authors concluded that yoga may be as effective as memory training in improving brain connectivity and how it relates to visual memory performance, but that the findings need confirming in larger studies.
Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Exercise in general can bring important physical benefits as well as enjoyable social experiences, and has been linked to a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Yoga can be a positive way to maintain health and wellbeing, as well as being more accessible for older people or those with mobility restrictions. This small study suggests yoga may have an impact on brain function and mood in people with early memory problems, but it will need following up in a larger group over a longer period of time. While there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that physical activity is beneficial for cognition, it’s still unclear what type and intensity of activity could be most important.
“Current physical activity recommendations include both muscle-strengthening exercises, which could include yoga or gardening, and moderate aerobic activity such as walking, swimming or bike riding. Current evidence suggests that in addition to keeping physically and mentally activity, not smoking, drinking within recommended guidelines, eating a healthy balanced diet and keeping cholesterol and blood pressure in check are all ways to promote healthy brain ageing.”