indica News Bureau-
In a study led by Indian-origin Neha Gothe scientist, it has been found that yoga and aerobic exercises have similar health benefits as yoga also enhances many of the same brain structures and functions that benefit from aerobic exercise. This comes as good news for many who cannot do aerobic exercises due to some reasons.
The findings are based on a review focused on eleven studies done on the relationship between “yoga practice and brain health.”
Five of the eleven studies were performed with help of individuals who had no background of Yoga but started practicing one or more yoga sessions per week for a period of 10 to 24 weeks. Their brain health was monitored before and after the end of the intervention, comparing the results, reported News 18.
The other studies measured brain differences between individuals who regularly practice yoga and those who don’t.
Each of the studies used brain-imaging techniques such as MRI and all involved Hatha yoga, which includes body movements, meditation and breathing exercises, said the team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“From these 11 studies, we identified some brain regions that consistently come up, and they are surprisingly not very different from what we see with exercise research,” said Gothe, University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor, who led the research with Wayne State University psychology professor Jessica Damoiseaux.
“For example, we see increases in the volume of the hippocampus with yoga practice,” she added.
Many studies looking at the brain effects of aerobic exercise have shown a similar increase in hippocampus size over time. The hippocampus is involved in memory processing and is known to shrink with age.
“It is also the structure that is first affected in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” said Gothe in a paper published in the journal Brain Plasticity.
Though many of the studies are exploratory and not conclusive, the research points to other important brain changes associated with regular yoga practice, Damoiseaux said.
The amygdala, a brain structure that contributes to emotional regulation, tends to be larger in yoga practitioners than in their peers who do not practice yoga.
The prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex and brain networks such as the default mode network also tend to be larger or more efficient in those who regularly practice yoga.
“The prefrontal cortex, a brain region just behind the forehead, is essential to planning, decision-making, multitasking, thinking about your options and picking the right option,” Damoiseaux noted.
“The default mode network is a set of brain regions involved in thinking about the self, planning and memory.”
The studies also find that the brain changes seen in individuals practicing yoga are associated with better performance on cognitive tests or measures of emotional regulation.
The discovery that yoga may have similar effects on the brain to aerobic exercise is intriguing and warrants more study, said researchers.
“Yoga is not aerobic in nature, so there must be other mechanisms leading to these brain changes,” she said. “So far, we don’t have the evidence to identify what those mechanisms are.”
Enhancing emotional regulation is a key to yoga’s positive effects on the brain.
“In one of my previous studies, we were looking at how yoga changes the cortisol stress response. We found that those who had done yoga for eight weeks had an attenuated cortisol response to stress that was associated with better performance on tests of decision-making, task-switching and
attention. The practice of yoga helps improve emotional regulation to reduce stress, anxiety and depression”, said Gothe.