When it Comes to Exercise, Yoga Offers the Greatest Brain Benefits

image credit: arztsamui / freedigitalphotos.net

image credit: arztsamui / freedigitalphotos.net

We know that exercise makes you smarter, but if you want to get the most bang for your buck, the exercise of choice should be yoga. At least that is what a recent study indicates…

Yoga Improves Brain Function More Than Aerobic Exercises

From the Journal of Physical Activity and Health (2013) – The Acute Effects of Yoga on Executive Function:

Results showed that cognitive performance after yoga exercise was significantly superior (subjects had shorter reaction times and increased accuracy) as compared to the aerobic group and baseline conditions for both inhibition and working memory tasks.

About the study:

  • 30 college-aged women participated in three sessions:
    • 20 minute Hatha yoga exercise session
    • 20 minute aerobic exercise session on a treadmill working at 60-70% of maximum heart rate
    • baseline assessment
  • Cognitive performance was tested after each session using:

How Yoga Changes the Brain

Using MRI scans, Chantal Villemure of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Bethesda detected more gray matter—brain cells—in certain brain areas in people who regularly practiced yoga, as compared with control subjects.

Yogis had larger brain volume in the somatosensory cortex, which contains a mental map of our body, the superior parietal cortex, involved in directing attention, and the visual cortex, which Villemure postulates might have been bolstered by visualization techniques. The hippocampus, a region critical to dampening stress, was also enlarged in practitioners, as were the precuneus and the posterior cingulate cortex, areas key to our concept of self. – Scientific American

Given that mindfulness meditation has also been shown to offer brain benefits, it ought to be expected that yoga would be superior to plain cardio exercise since yoga offers the combined action of exercise and meditation. Are the effects really synergistic? Well, as always, further study is required, but while we’re waiting, it’s worthwhile to opt for yoga over a mindless run on the treadmill if you had to make a choice.

Yoga Offers Other Benefits

Besides, even if you aren’t fully convinced, yoga has also been shown to offer many other benefits:

From Your Brain on Yoga by Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, PhD who has been fully engaged in basic and clinical research on the effectiveness of yoga and meditation practices in improving physical and psychological health for over 10 years.

About Sat Bir Singh Khalsa

Sat Bir Singh Khalsa is a certified Kundalini Yoga instructor who has practiced a yoga lifestyle for over 40 years. He is the Director of Research for the Kundalini Research Institute, Research Director of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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