Note: very recently I included much of the content of this article in a post for Prime Women. Yoga is attracting so many older adults. I’ve included some additional notes and resources here for you today. Please add your comment to the bottom of the post and let me know what your yoga status is:
- Practicing at home
- Practicing at a studio
- Need to get back to it
- Want to start
- Limited by something so I haven’t started but want to
Yoga is certainly not new. At over 7000 years old, it has proven staying power. There are an increasing number of reasons why you may want to try it whether you’re 50, 60, 70, or beyond. You may have chosen it already for tone, stress reduction, or the promise of “yoga butt.” Your doctor may have recommended it for blood pressure and wellbeing. But more and more yoga is connected to brain health that may be the start of all benefits.
Older adults are increasingly the subjects of interest in studies about yoga’s brain boosting benefits. The news is uplifting. If you have concerns about Alzheimer’s Disease due to family history, or forgetfulness plagues you more than you lie, go dust off your mat.
It’s well known older adults are at greater risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Lesser, but annoying concerns, like forgetting whether you locked the front door and forgetting where you put your cell phone, are likely a factor of our increasingly stressful lives.
It’s well known that brain exposure to high levels of cortisol is a contributing factor to cognitive deficits as we age. It’s a cumulative effect. If you’ve lived with perceived high stress for long periods of time you’re more susceptible to cognitive decline or dementia.
Yoga and Alzheimers
Would you practice yoga one hour a week and meditate 20 minutes a day to prevent Alzheimers? A study at UCLA proved that it might be time well spent. Subjects who did Kundalini yoga for an hour just once a week along with meditation 20 minutes a day minimized cognitive impairments that precede Alzheimers better than memory enhancement exercises.
If your time is limited you may want to turn off Luminosity brain games and find a mat if you want to reduce risk of brain decline.
Do you forget your children’s names? Do you catch yourself in the middle of telling a story and have to ask if you’ve told it before? Have you forgotten important things both present and past? Again, you might want to strike a yoga pose.
The results in another small study showed that your memory recall could be just as good following a once weekly yoga class and a few minutes a day of meditation as if you performed weekly memory enhancement training. So if you’re looking to keep your body and your brain nimble, yoga may be the prescription you get.
Yoga is unique
In case you’re wondering if another activity would do, the answer so far is, no. Even considering the most closely related activity, stretching, yoga emerges as the winner.
Yoga has an effect that other traditional exercise may not in terms of cognitive health. At least one study proved this. The study explored the benefits of yoga by comparing subjects practicing yoga to subjects stretching for the same amount of time weekly for 8 weeks.
Subjects assigned to the yoga group improved in their cognitive function and decreased cortisol while the stretching group declined in cognitive function and increased in cortisol. Hands down (on a mat) yoga wins that one.
Yet another study showed yoga caused improvements in attention and processing speed. Say you’re having trouble staying focused at work or finishing a book. You can’t remember what you read. You can condition your brain through yoga just like you would your body through weight training. Yoga that includes poses, or asanas, as well as movement, and meditation seems to offer the most brain benefits.
Tip: If you’re new to yoga, look for a Hatha yoga class. That would include all the components of brain enhancing yoga used in the studies. You should be able to find a beginner class or one that is done using props or even in chairs if you need accommodations for joints or other conditions. There are a wide variety of dvds and live streaming video programs available online as well as your local fitness studios. If you need special assistance you can find a yoga therapist who similar to a personal trainer used to working with specific medical conditions, can focus on your specific needs.
For some simple flowing series, broken down into short segments, watch this free YouTube video playlist. These do involved weight on the wrists and shoulders and inversions (head below the heart) in some poses. Check with a doctor first, before starting any new activity.
Now it’s time for your flip. I love hearing from you. Let me know if you’ve got a special condition, be it balance, joint or muscular complications, that make exercise a challenge.
Then watch for future posts specific to your condition.