Growing old, in the way we have come to understand it, complete with memory loss; Alzheimer’s; or dementia is not inevitable. Research is offering scientific evidence that these common, age related conditions are within our control to suspend or avoid, regardless of family history. The latest longevity research offers suggestions on how we can maintain our cognitive functioning as we grow older. The practice of yoga has many known physical benefits to keep us healthy as we age. Here are 7 ways that a yoga practice meets science’s recommendations for age proofing our minds.
Exercise fattens your brain
The hippocampus is the portion of the brain that’s responsible for memory. As you age, the hippocampus shrinks and so does your memory. Physical activity triggers growth of new cells in the hippocampus which can reverse the shrinking process. In an article in “AARP The Magazine”, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Illinois, explains that physically active people maintain cognition and memory, reducing their risk of dementia by 30%-40%.
However, the amount and type of physical activity you choose is a factor in the success of your anti-aging efforts. Doctors have long recommended that as little as 15 minutes of exercise, three times a week helps maintain your brain’s capabilities. It’s not unusual for yogis to take 2-3 classes per week equating to 120-225 minutes of physical activity. At those levels, the Group Health Research Institute has shown that you can not only maintain your current abilities, but also restore lost competencies. According to a study by the University of British Columbia at Vancouver, physically challenging exercise increases levels of growth factors in the brain such as IGFI, which nourish and protect nerve cells. Power Yoga offers muscle building resistance training, which the study showed could gain them a 13% advantage on cognitive tests over those who practice gentler forms of exercise.
Yogic philosophy grows new brain cells
Learning new skills and information that challenge your brain increases your number of brain cells and their connections. After only a week of learning new skills, MRI scans done by UCLA researchers, showed that adults can stimulate the brain centers that control decision making and complex reasoning. The study of yogic philosophy is rich and broad. Learning its history, contradictions, modern applications and reinterpretations offers endless ways to challenge your thinking machine. In addition, to the intellectual challenge of confronting each new pose on the mat, understanding how the anatomy works and, of course, the Sanskrit offers your brain a fattening diet of information.
Ommm to the gray matter
Your memory is negatively impacted when you are under stress in large part because your brain is being flooded with cortisol. During a yoga practice you are guided to focus your attention on the sensations within your body, and the activity within your mind. Improving your ability to focus, and practicing this type of mindfulness, reduces harmful stress hormones like cortisol. An 8 week Harvard study on the effects of a mindfulness practice showed the density of gray matter in the hippocampus increased significantly over that of the control group.
Yoga is low fat and sugar free
Yoga can control and reduce your risk of having diabetes, hypertension and other chronic illnesses that are connected to the onset of dementia. A study from Japan demonstrates that Diabetes and obesity almost double our risk for Alzheimer’s. Therefore, controlling these risks is an important factor in age-proofing your mind. Power yoga in particular, but yoga in general, is helpful in weight lose and the
Yogis on a mission
A study of older adults conducted by Rush University Medical Center, indicates that feeling you have a purpose in life keeps you sharp. While yoga does not have a doctrine and it’s not a religion, it has a spiritual component that strengthens practitioners’ sense of purpose and connection. The Rush University study was conducted over a seven year period. People who started the study with a clear sense of life purpose, intention and goals were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
Remember your friends
Yogis belong to a community of people who share concerns and interests on a variety of levels including physical, mental and spiritual. Examinations of older people in Sweden confirm you can reduce your risk of dementia by having a full social life. Social interaction stimulates you emotionally and mentally. After just 10 minutes of conversation, participants in a University of Michigan study showed improvement on short term memory tests,
Better sex, bigger brains
Yoga increases your over all confidence and comfort level with your body. It provides a stronger awareness of physical sensations, increased relaxation, and better muscle control in your pelvis. All of which can lead to increased sexual vitality and satisfaction. While there’s no direct link between an active sex life and improved mental faculties; research, books and articles abound indicating that sex will keep you looking and feeling younger. At a bare minimum, we can assume that a happy sex life can put you in a better frame of mind to cope with the effects of aging.