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The benefits of physical activity, especially aerobic exercise such as running, swimming, or cycling, have positive effects on brain health and function. A recent review suggests that yoga has similar effects on the brain.
Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that engages the mind and body through physical poses, breathing techniques, and meditation. It incorporates aspects of mindfulness not commonly present in other forms of exercise.
The authors of the review focused on 11 cross-sectional, longitudinal, or intervention studies examining the effects of yoga on the brain’s structures, function, and blood flow based on MRI, functional MRI, and SPECT (single-photon emission computed tomography). They found that yoga had beneficial effects on the hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex, and the default mode network. These areas of the brain play critical roles in memory processing, emotional control, and decision making.
The authors identified a few confounders in their review. People who practice yoga are more likely to be physically active, non-obese, and well-educated. They are also more likely to follow vegetarian or plant-based diets. These lifestyle behaviors have been shown to have beneficial effects on brain health.
Overall, however, the findings from this review suggest that exercise interventions like yoga may be a useful strategy to mitigate age-related changes within the brain associated with memory loss and cognitive decline.