Yoga Improves Cognitive Functions and Delays Aging

Health In Focus   - G J E 4
  • Currently, there is no standard drug treatment for dementia
  • Non-pharmacological interventions show potential to delay cognitive decline
  • Yoga and meditation offer greater potential to prevent Alzheimer's disease
  • Mindfulness-based interventions (MBI) slow progression of mild cognitive impairment
  • Overall, yoga has the potential to prevent aging and can keep you young in mind and body
Dementia currently affects millions of people globally and the Alzheimer's Disease International Association estimates that 66 million people could be affected by dementia in 2030. Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia and is to some extent related to age. There is no standard pharmacological treatment for the disease and the growing incidence builds pressure to develop a drug for dementia or non-pharmacological interventions.
Yoga Improves Cognitive Functions and Delays Aging
Yoga Improves Cognitive Functions and Delays Aging

The main aim of non-pharmacological approaches is to postpone the institutionalization of patients and reduce the support of caregivers during later stages of the disease.

‘Yoga has the potential to prevent aging and can keep you young in mind and body. The Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBI) that combine yoga and meditation slow down cognitive decline in older adults at risk of dementia.’
Previous studies have revealed that non-pharmacological interventions such as meditation and yoga can significantly influence cognitive functions and delay aging in people with neurological disorders.

Yoga originates in India and is the oldest form of meditation. Studies show that yoga-based interventions can improve cognitive domains in elderly such as memory, verbal, attention and processing speed.

Meditation techniques are said to be cognitively stimulating activities and some of their forms include Mindfulness Meditation, Transcendental Meditation, Yoga and Kirtan Kriya.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Dementia

One of the most-researched therapy combining yoga and meditation is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which was first developed in 1979. It is an eight-week intervention that helps in mindfulness meditation, body awareness and interpretation of unconscious thoughts.

Researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center conducted a pilot study in 2013 which showed that meditation and yoga can play a significant role in slowing the progression of age-related cognitive disorders like Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

The team examined 14 adults between the ages 55 and 90 with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). They were divided into two groups namely a control and a study group. Participants in the study group followed the eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy while the participants in the control group followed regular care.

Participants met for two hours each week for an eight week period and were also encouraged to follow the same at home for 15-30 minutes per day. They also underwent an MRI to determine the brain changes.

At the end of the intervention, researchers found that participants in the study group had increased functional connectivity between the posterior cingulate cortex and bilateral medial prefrontal cortex and left hippocampus of the brain compared to controls. They also had trends of less bilateral hippocampal volume atrophy than control participants.

The study suggested that meditation improved functional connectivity in the areas of the default mode network associated with Alzheimer's, which in turn, helps in delaying the symptoms of cognitive decline.

Another study by Canadian researchers in 2015 showed that adverse factors such as stress, metabolic syndrome and depression can trigger the conversion of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) into Alzheimer's disease (AD) and this conversion can be reduced or prevented by practicing mindfulness-based stress reduction.

The study found that meditation intervention reduced inflammation and normalized insulin and oxidative stress. This helped in delaying the course of neuro-degeneration and conversion of MCI into Alzheimer's disease.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction shows greater potential for reducing hippocampus damage and preventing the neurodegenerative cascade leading to Alzheimer's disease.

Yoga and Its Effects on Aging

Yoga and meditation have showed beneficial effects on delaying cognitive decline and aging. Few studies reveal the potential role of yoga practices on aging and dementia.

Aging is influenced by the decline in the secretion of two hormones namely Human Growth Hormone (GH) and Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) in the body.

Researchers at the Jadavpur University, Kolkata have showed that regular practice of yoga may delay aging process by increasing the secretion of these anti-aging hormones. Participants between 40-45 years of age underwent yogic practices every morning for six days in week for 12 weeks and at the end of the intervention, they found that yoga increased the secretion of these hormones and thus promoted healthy aging.

Another study conducted by the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation in the United States found that a particular type of yoga meditation called as Kirtan Kriya can play a significant role in decreasing memory loss in people with subjective cognitive impairment (SCI) and mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Kirtan Kriya involves 12-minute yoga meditation for eight weeks. After eight weeks of intervention, the study found improvement in memory, a decrease in Alzheimer's risk factors and delay in neuro-degeneration process.

Now, researchers at the Rhode Island Hospital are about to examine whether regular practice of yoga can slow cognitive decline. The study led by Dr. Geoffrey Tremont, Neuropsychology Director at Rhode Island Hospital is currently enrolling 70 patients for the study that will involve a 12-week, twice-weekly yoga regimen. The yoga program includes meditation, physical postures, breathing exercises and relaxation.

The growing research on non-pharmacological interventions for cognitive decline and aging increases hope for better treatment and prevention strategies for Alzheimer's and other dementias. 

  1. Rebecca Erwin Wells, Gloria Y. Yeh, Catherine E. Kerr, Jennifer Wolkin, Roger B. Davis, Ying Tan, Rosa Spaeth, Robert B. Wall, Jacquelyn Walsh, Ted J. Kaptchuk, Daniel Press, Russell S. Phillips, Jian Kong, Meditation's impact on default mode network and hippocampus in mild cognitive impairment: A pilot study, Neuroscience Letters 2013,Volume 556, Pages 15-19, doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2013.10.001.
  2. Ankur Sachdeva, Kuldip Kumar and Kuljeet Singh Anand, Non Pharmacological Cognitive Enhancers - Current Perspectives, J Clin Diagn Res. 2015 Jul; 9(7): VE01-VE06.doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2015/13392.6186.
  3. Eddy Larouchea, Carol Hudona, Sonia Gouleta, Potential benefits of mindfulness-based interventions in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease: An interdisciplinary perspective, Behavioural Brain Research, Volume 276, 1 January 2015, Pages 199-212, doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.058.
  4. Sridip Chatterjee and Samiran Monda, Effect of Regular Yogic Training on Growth Hormone and Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate as an Endocrine Marker of Aging, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014,
  5. Dharma Singh Khalsa, HOW MEDICAL YOGA MEDITATION MAY MODULATE MCI PROGRESSION, Alzheimer's & Dementia 2014, Volume 10, Issue 4, Supplement, Pages P769-P770, DOI:

Source: Medindia

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