Yoga Brings Brain Benefits to Women at Risk for Alzheimer's
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Yoga Brings Brain Benefits to Women at Risk for Alzheimer's

Key Takeaways

  • Women at risk for Alzheimer's appeared to benefit from a meditation-focused form of yoga

  • Kundalini yoga sessions were tied to improvements in brain health, memory and inflammation

  • Combining yoga wth memory training might be the best combo, researchers said

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 28, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- In a new study, yoga appears to have bolstered the brain health of older women who had risk factors for Alzheimer's disease.

The study can't prove that the ancient practice will slow or prevent the onset of Alzheimer's, but it did seem to reverse some forms of neurological decline, researchers said.

“That is what yoga is good for -- to reduce stress, to improve brain health, subjective memory performance and reduce inflammation and improve neuroplasticity,” said study lead author Dr. Helen Lavretsky. She's a health psychiatrist at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, part of UCLA Health.

The researchers noted that, because they live longer and are affected by changes in estrogen levels as they age, women have about twice the odds of developing Alzheimer's compared to men.

The new study involved more than 60 women ages 50 or older. All were patients at a UCLA cardiology clinic and already had reported memory issues and risk factors indicating poorer brain blood flow.

Lavretsky's team divided the women into two groups. One joined weekly sessions of Kundalini yoga (focusing on meditation and breathing work rather than physical poses) for 12 weeks; while the other took memory enhancement training, where stories or lists are used to help boost memory powers.

The researchers tracked each woman's neurological health using blood samples that tracked genetic or molecular signs of brain aging or inflammation (both of which can encourage Alzheimer's).

Participants were also tested for changes in thinking, subjective memory, depression and anxiety.

Kunadlini yoga appeared linked to positive changes that weren't experienced by women who took the memory training, Lavretsky's group said.

"These included significant improvement in subjective memory complaints, prevention in brain matter declines, increased connectivity in the hippocampus which manages stress-related memories, and improvement in the peripheral cytokines and gene expression of anti-inflammatory and anti-aging molecules," a news release from UCLA Health stated.

Memory training did have some benefit, the team noted, largely in terms of long-term memory.

Neither group appeared to experience improvements in anxiety, depression, stress or resilience, Lavretsky said, although that may be because most of the women recruited were already mentally healthy.

The study was published recently in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Lavretsky believes that, for older women concerned about brain resiliency, combining yoga and memory training might be the best path forward.

“Ideally, people should do both because they do train different parts of the brain and have different overall health effects,” Lavretsky said. “Yoga has this anti-inflammatory, stress-reducing, anti-aging neuroplastic brain effect which would be complimentary to memory training.”   

More information

Find out more about yoga's health benefits at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

SOURCE: UCLA Health, news release, Feb. 27, 202

What This Means For You

Women over 50 who worry about mental decline or Alzheimer's might use yoga to bolster brain resiliency.

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