Meditation and yoga can have far reaching health benefits outside of stress relief and flexibility.
A new University of California at Los Angeles study shows the practices can greatly improve memory skills of older adults and lessen the chances of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The research, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, concluded three months of yoga and meditation were more effective than time-honored memory exercises such as crossword puzzles and computer games.
“The simple act of closing your eyes and just hearing yourself breathe through meditation can cause a tremendous amount of relief and release for a person,” says Dr. Suneela Harsoor, a pain management physician at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago.
The team of UCLA neuroscientists took 25 adults ages 55-years and older and measured changes in brain activity after performing yoga. They focused on seniors with slight memory lapses and measured their brain scans before and after exercise and meditation. Participants were divided into two groups; one performed one hour a week of memory-enhancement techniques and 20 minutes of memory exercises at home, while the other group meditated one hour a week in a class and 20 minutes daily at home.
While both groups did improve, those who meditated measured better in reducing depression and coping with stress. The study stated people with mild memory problems are almost three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
“Memory training was comparable to yoga with meditation in terms of improving memory, but yoga provided a broader benefit than memory training because it also helped with mood, anxiety and coping skills,” said Helen Lavretsky, the study’s senior author and a professor in residence in UCLA’s department of psychiatry, in a news release. “If you or your relatives are trying to improve your memory or offset the risk for developing memory loss or dementia, a regular practice of yoga and meditation could be a simple, safe and low-cost solution to improving your brain fitness.”
Physicians also note that the simple result of learning a new skill can cause positive brain stimulation.
“I think people are starting to believe the benefit of mindfulness exercises like yoga and meditation,” says Dr. Harsoor. “Before it was seen as something just done on the West Coast, but you are now seeing Midwestern physicians adopt some of these techniques.”