Yoga beats aerobic exercise for instant brain boost

US researchers have found that even a short 20-minute bout of yoga practise can immediately enhance brain function.

In a study involving 30 young female subjects, a team from the University of Illinois found that those who participated in a yoga session performed significantly better in working memory and inhibitory control tests immediately post-exercise than they did following moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise of a similar duration.

Study leader Neha Gothe, who was a graduate student at the University of Illinois at the time of the study but who is now a professor of kinesiology, health and sport studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, said; ‘Yoga is an ancient Indian science and way of life that includes not only physical movements and postures, but also regulated breathing and meditation. The practice involves an active attentional or mindfulness component, but its potential benefits have not been thoroughly explored.’

Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Edward McAuley, director of the Exercise Psychology Laboratory that conducted the study said; ‘Yoga is becoming an increasingly popular form of exercise in the US and it is imperative to systematically examine its health benefits, especially the mental health benefits that this unique mind-body form of activity may offer.’

For the yoga session, study subjects undertook a progression of supine, seated and standing postures comprising regulated breathing and isometric contraction and relaxation of different muscle groups, before ending in a meditative posture. For the comparative aerobic exercise session participants walked or jogged for 20 minutes on a treadmill.

The results surprised the researchers: ‘It appears that following yoga practice, the participants were better able to focus their mental resources, process information quickly, more accurately and also learn, hold and update pieces of information more effectively than after performing an aerobic exercise bout. The breathing and meditative exercises aim at calming the mind and body and keeping distracting thoughts away while you focus on your body, posture or breath. Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities.’

Source: Journal of Physical Activity and Health, http://www.fitnessnetwork.com.au/enews/july2013/july2013.html#timely

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