Sure, yoga makes for a great workout, but did you know that it can also boost your brain health? Here are 5 science-backed reasons why.
1. Yoga tames inflammation
Chronic low-grade inflammation—from poor diet, lack of exercise, sleep deprivation and ongoing stress—has a serious impact on brain health and your overall smarts. Higher levels of inflammation are related to lower levels of baseline cognitive function, and research suggests inflammation disrupts a specific critical process in the brain related to staying aware and focused, interfering with the readiness of the brain to reach and maintain an alert state. The result: fuzzy thinking, mental fog and forgetfulness. A regular yoga practice dampens the flames of inflammation to help your brain stay sharp and alert. In one review, C-reactive protein and other markers of inflammation were significantly decreased after doing yoga, and longer practices led to greater improvements in inflammation. Plus, yoga amps up levels of protective chemicals in the body that guard against inflammation.
2. It vetoes stress
Another way yoga boosts brain health is by calming stress. Tension, anxiety, worry and other kinds of mental distress can seriously diminish brain power. Psychological stress has an immediate impact on cognitive function, reducing attentional resources available for information processing. So, for example, if you’re fretting over that fight with your spouse or agonizing over challenges at work, your brain’s preoccupied, less able to pay attention to the task at hand. In the long run, chronic stress creates wear and tear, causing dysregulations in how neurons communicate and boosting inflammation, which can impair the brain’s structure, function and performance. Over time, ongoing stress also dampens mood; that, and continued inflammation, are both linked with fatigue, diminished brain power, cognitive decline and an increased risk of dementia.
Research shows a regular yoga practice lessens stress, relieves anxiety and can make you think better and faster. Dozens of studies suggest yoga relieves stress and anxiety, enhances overall well-being and strengthens mental performance, and other research shows a regular yoga practice can improve attention, brain processing speed and executive function—a set of skills that include memory, focus, flexible thinking and self-regulation.
3. It makes you breathe better
If your yoga practice is the kind that includes breathing practices, all the better. Slow, deep breathing is thought to stimulate areas of the brain that control alertness, and research shows it can enhance a variety of complex cognitive tasks. Relaxed, slow breathing also relieves stress, lessens inflammation and brightens mood, all related to better brain performance. In one study, meditation significantly improved executive functions like self-control and working memory, and was more effective than a session of aerobic exercise. And yoga also encourages meditation, increasing blood flow to the brain, enhancing focus, and improving cognition and memory. Research shows meditation eases stress and anxiety, lessens depression, cools chronic inflammation and promotes a healthy gut-barrier function—all key to cognitive health. In one study, even a single session of yogic meditation boosted memory. Over the long term, deep breathing and meditation can slow and even prevent cognitive decline with aging and lessen the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.