Memory Maximizers: Yoga’s Effect on Brain Function; Healthy Habits to Reduce Memory Loss

Here's the latest research to help you keep your brain sharp.

IMPROVE YOUR BRAIN FUNCTION WITH YOGA
Yoga may be better than an aerobic workout in boosting brainpower, new research suggests. A small study comparing cognitive performance scores of 30 volunteers who en-gaged in both yoga and heart-pounding exercise revealed that engaging in yoga had a significantly greater effect on participants’ speed and accuracy on tests of working memory and inhibitory control. At the beginning of the study, the volunteers took cognitive tests, then completed two additional testing sessions—one after practicing Hatha yoga for 20 minutes, and the second after working out on a treadmill for 20 minutes. The yoga session involved assuming a progression of yoga postures while contracting and relaxing different muscle groups and concentrating on deep, slow, breathing. During the aerobic session, participants walked on an inclined treadmill at 60 to 70 percent of their maximum heart rate. In brain function tests conducted 30 to 40 minutes after each activity, yoga was associated with improved scores, while scores of aerobic exercisers were essentially the same as those at baseline, according to a paper published in the June 2013 issue of the Journal of Physical Activity & Health. “The breathing and meditative exercises aim at calming the mind and body and keeping distracting thoughts away … and maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities,” theorized the study’s lead author. Other recent studies have associated regular practice of yoga with lower blood pressure, lower risk of atrial fibrillation (a type of cardiac arrhythmia), stress reduction, and reduced depression and anxiety. Improvement in all of these factors is linked to better brain health. Experts recommend that individuals interested in taking up Hatha yoga begin with classes supervised by a registered yoga teacher. For a list of teachers in your area, use the directory at www.yogaalliance.org, or contact the YogaAlliance at 1560 Wilson Blvd #700, Arlington, VA 22209, telephone: 888-921-9642.

IT’S COMMON SENSE: HEALTHY HABITS REDUCE RISK FOR MEMORY LOSS
A survey of 18,552 Americans published in the June 2013 issue of the journal International Psychogeriatrics has linked healthy behaviors with lower risk for serious memory problems later in life. In a national telephone poll of people between the ages of 18 and 99, the researchers asked four questions about lifestyle factors and one about memory troubles. The questions were:

  • Do you smoke?
  • Did you eat healthy all day yesterday?
  • In the last seven days, on how many days did you have five or more servings of vegetables and fruits?
  • In the last seven days, on how many days did you exercise for 30 minutes or more?
  • Do you have any problems with your memory?

At all ages, those respondents who engaged in the greatest number of healthy behaviors were least likely to re-port experiencing memory problems. Compared to respondents who said they did not engage in any healthy behaviors, those who reported engaging in one healthy behavior were 21 percent less likely to report memory problems. Those reporting two healthy behaviors were 45 percent less likely, those with three healthy behaviors were 75 per-cent less likely, and those reporting more than three healthy behaviors were 111 percent less likely to complain about their memories. The oldest adults were more likely to report engaging in healthy behaviors than middle-aged and young adults, the researchers found. The study’s lead author said that the survey reinforces the importance, for all ages, of adopting a healthy lifestyle to help limit and forestall age-related cognitive decline and neurodegeneration.

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