Studies suggest that people who stay active have a lower risk of developing dementia. If you're not able to engage in cardio activities like running, you may wonder how important vigorous exercise is to reaping those mental benefits.
A new study suggests that keeping up a weekly yoga and meditation practice, in particular, may ease depression and even prevent mental decline as we age. The study may be good news for those who aren't able to run or participate in a regular cardio routine. Plus, previous studies have suggested that yoga may hold particular benefits for people with Parkinson's, including improving mobility, balance and sleep.
The participants in the study were middle-aged and older adults with mild cognitive impairment, a condition that can be a precursor to dementia (though not always).
Participants were broken into two groups. One enrolled in a well-established brain training program. The other group learned an accessible style of yoga called Kundalini and a meditation technique. Each group practiced for 12 weeks. Both groups saw improvements in most tests of their thinking. By the end of the study, researchers were surprised by how much of an impact the yoga and meditation, in particular, made on the brain:
[O]nly those who had practiced yoga and meditation showed improvements in their moods — they scored lower on an assessment of potential depression than those in the brain-training group — and they performed much better on a test of visuospatial memory, a type of remembering that is important for balance, depth perception and the ability to recognize objects and navigate the world.
The brain scans in both groups displayed more communication now between parts of their brains involved in memory and language skills. Those who had practiced yoga, however, also had developed more communication between parts of the brain that control attention, suggesting a greater ability now to focus and multitask.
"We were a bit surprised by the magnitude" of the brain effects, said Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a professor of psychiatry at U.C.L.A. who oversaw the study.
Further research is needed to determine how yoga and meditation may change the brain. Dr. Lavretsky speculates that reducing stress may have played a role in participants' mood and mental function, as well.
If you're interested in trying yoga for the first time, talk with your doctor. The poses may seem intimidating at first, but yoga is an accessible and enjoyable exercise for many people with Parkinson's.
"[Yoga class improves] my tremor and concentration. It helps my digestion as well," community member Jacqueline Landry shared on our Facebook page. "It's the best exercise I do for therapy."
Learn more how depression and anxiety are treated in Parkinson's disease in our upcoming webinar.