Yoga Can Change Your Brain

             While you’re striving to enhance cognition, getting regular physical activity is definitely something you don’t want to overlook.  Exercise fuels the brain with oxygen-giving blood flow and releases endorphins that help maximize the performance of the brain and body.  It’s true that any activity is better than no activity; but if you’re interested in growing your hippocampus, take note of a recent study!

                The hippocampus is the area of the brain which is responsible for learning, memory, and attention.  Many nootropics focus on improving or activating key functions and processes of this brain region, including cholinergics.  It’s one of the areas of the brain that declines with age-related cognitive changes, so keeping this brain region strong is imperative if you’re seeking a better memory, now and in the future.

                Recent research from the journal Brain Plasticity found that doing yoga had the same benefits as aerobic exercise when it comes to the brain, even though yoga’s gentle body-weight exercise is not considered aerobic.  The hippocampus increases with yoga even for beginners who did yoga just once weekly for six months!

                Other types of brain changes occur with yoga as well, including larger amygdala size (the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, fight-or-flight), and brain networks and regions connected to making decisions and planning (the prefrontal and cingulate cortex).

                Since yoga isn’t aerobic, and the changes in hippocampus size have been noted previously in aerobic exercise studies, researchers believe that there are other factors influencing these positive brain changes.  Yoga helps to regulate the stress response because of the breathing and meditative qualities of the movements, which provide upstream effects for the brain and cortisol response.  People who do yoga for just two months have better reactions to their cortisol and stress response, and they perform better on attention-based tasks and decision-making than those who don’t practice yoga.

                Yoga is one of the most interesting forms of exercise which combines so many stress-relieving activities into one.  It may not seem like you’re putting in the same amount of effort as huffing away at a stair stepper—but for your brain, it doesn’t matter.  It’s just as beneficial and can be done as an alternative to those with injuries or physical limitations that make other forms of exercise unachievable.

Further Reading

Neha P. Gothe, Imadh Khan, Jessica Hayes, Emily Erlenbach, Jessica S. Damoiseaux. Yoga Effects on Brain Health: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature. Brain Plasticity, 2019; 1 DOI: 10.3233/BPL-190084

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