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Scientists find greater cortical thickness in the brains of elderly female yoga practitioners

From News Medical - July 13, 2017

Scientists in Brazil have imaged elderly female yoga practitioners' brains and found they have greater cortical thickness in the left prefrontal cortex, in brain areas associated with cognitive functions like attention and memory. The results suggest that yoga could be a way to protect against cognitive decline in old age.

As we age, the structure and functionality of our brains change and this often leads to cognitive decline, including impaired attention or memory. One such change in the brain involves the cerebral cortex becoming thinner, which scientists have shown is correlated with cognitive decline. So, how can we slow or reverse these changes?

You might think medication would be required, but surprisingly, the answer could lie in contemplative practices like yoga. Yoga practitioners consciously maintain postures and perform breathing exercises and meditation.

"In the same way as muscles, the brain develops through training," explains Elisa Kozasa of Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in So Paulo, Brazil, a researcher involved in the study, which was recently published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. "Like any contemplative practice, yoga has a cognitive component in which attention and concentration are important."

Previous studies have suggested that yoga can have greater health benefits than similar aerobic exercises, and yoga practitioners have shown improved awareness, attention, and memory. Older adults with mild cognitive impairment have also shown improvements after a short yoga training program.

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