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Yoga Makes For A Healthy Brain
Originally developed in India thousands of years ago, yoga has exploded in popularity throughout the world over the past few decades. But many people are still not quite sure what to make of it!
Yoga seems to fall somewhere between meditation and exercise. It strengthens the body, but also relaxes it. It has been popularized by celebrities and utilized by athletes to enhance the effectiveness of their normal training. But what about regular people who just want to improve their fitness or maintain good health as they get older?
Yoga may be perfect for them. According to the latest research, yoga not only builds muscle strength and flexibility, it also improves brain health as well. Here we’ll explain the full range of physical benefits yoga offers, as well as newfound evidence that yoga can protect against neurological conditions and improve your brain health!
While almost everyone has at least heard of yoga, it is necessary to offer a few words of what it is to cover the topic properly. “Yoga” is a term referring to a very broad range of physical, mental, and in some cases spiritual practices originally developed in Ancient India. There are forms of yoga in India related to religious practices of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Yoga was first introduced to the Western world in the late 19th century and became popular in the 1980s.
It is important to note that most forms of yoga practiced in the West are usually thought of as simply a form of exercise, and do not have any real religious connotation. However, certain styles may involve mediation or concepts which border on spiritual.
There are more than one hundred different varieties of yoga, but they all place a shared emphasis on breathing exercises, adopting certain postures or poses (sometimes called “asana”).
The benefits of yoga seem to be multifaceted — some are purely physical, others are metal and emotional, and often these benefits overlap.
On the physical level, practicing yoga has been linked to increased strength and flexibility, as well as improved recovery from injuries. It also can help with insomnia by supporting the brain in releasing serotonin. Yoga also lowers high blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease.
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On the mental level, yoga is very relaxing. Research has found that it lowers the stress hormone cortisol, and produces feelings of calm and mental clarity.
But as mentioned above, these benefits overlap, and the manner in which yoga reduces stress also helps fight off weight gain. Cortisol actually affects how fat accumulates on the body. Simply put, the more stressed out you are, the more likely you are to gain fat around your midsection. By reducing cortisol levels, yoga can help prevent you from packing on unwanted pounds. In fact, a study at the Fred Hutchinson Center for Cancer Research showed that participants (all middle-aged adults) in who practiced yoga once a week lost an average of three more pounds over the course of the four-year study versus those who practiced other forms of exercise.
Age-related cognitive decline is one of the things many people dread the most about getting older. But new research offers hope that yoga is able to help defend against neurodegenerative conditions as well.
A study performed by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) found that yoga can actually help protect cognitive performance.
The study involved 29 middle-aged individuals who had all been diagnosed with cognitive impairments consistent with precursors to neurological conditions which can eventually lead to dementia. At the beginning of the three-month study, both groups took part in special brain scans that measure how effectively different areas of the brain communicate and took special tests designed to measure mental performance.
The adults were divided into two groups: One was instructed to perform regular brain-training tests and mental exercises 15 minutes per day. These programs are designed to strengthen memory. The other group took part in kundalini yoga lessons for one hour each week, as well as meditation.
After 12 weeks, both groups received brain scans again, and took the tests a second time. The results showed that both groups experienced improved scores, but the yoga group received higher scores in areas pertaining to language skills as well as visuospatial memory, which plays a part in how we perceive depth and recognize objects in our environment.
The evidence was clear: yoga can help keep your brain stronger and more effective, even in people already afflicted with a mild cognitive impairment.
READ ALSO: Easy Yoga For Complete Beginners Video
Yoga is an excellent addition to anyone’s lifestyle. If more demanding forms of exercise like cardio or weightlifting turn you off, yoga is a great choice. Its low impact nature and ability to build strength and flexibility make it a good option for those who might feel they are too out of shape to do “normal” exercises. Look into a yoga class at your local gym or community center today, and experience the difference!