If you find yourself or a loved one screaming ‘Where did I leave my keys, again?’ quick – sign them up for a yoga class this International Day of Yoga! As per new research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, a weekly yoga routine can help ward off age-related mental decline and similar memory problems in middle-aged and senior adults.

As we get older, the occasional episode of absent-mindedness inevitably starts becoming more frequent. From forgetting our phones in odd places to racking our brains over the name of the neighbor’s pet, memory lapses can be one of the most common, though often potentially dangerous, side effects of aging. Previous studies have shown how people who regularly do physical exercises like running or strength training can help avoid potential dementia when compared to those who don’t work out at all. But what about those who can’t take up vigorous activities due to, say, health reasons?

Conducted by the University of California Los Angeles and other institutions, a new study tested whether a low-intensity workout like yoga could benefit older adults who were beginning to show signs of memory failures and improve their brain function. The researchers took in a sample group of 29 middle-aged and older adults who were tested to have mild cognitive impairment – a condition that creates memory loss and is a precursor for eventual dementia – and divided them into two groups.

The first lot underwent a well-known brain training program that involved mental training exercises specially designed to boost memory and cognitive skills. The volunteers practiced these drills for about 15 minutes a day at home. The second group was trained in Kundalini yoga, comprising breathing exercises and meditation along with yoga poses. A low-intensity workout, this form of yoga can be taken up even by those who haven’t had any prior yoga or workout experience. Members of this group too had to practice their movements for 15 minutes daily.

After 12 weeks, both groups underwent a second brain scan and cognitive testing, where all subjects were found to perform reasonably better on thinking tests. However, the yoga group also showed significant improvement in their moods, with lesser chances of potential depression than the other group. They also did better on a visuospatial memory test, which measures balance, depth perception, and navigation. To sum it up, the yoga group had not only matched the other in terms of cognitive skills but also topped them in certain aspects.

The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, which partially funded the study, offers tips and information on starting this 12-minute meditation routine (also known as Kirtan Kriya) on its website.

Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a professor of psychiatry at U.C.L.A. who oversaw the study, reportedly told the New York Times that they were “a bit surprised by the magnitude of the brain effects”; though she offers that yoga’s role in reducing stress and anxiety possibly played a huge role. “Movement also increases the levels of various biochemicals in the muscles and brains that are associated with improved brain health,” she said.

The following infographic put together by Positive Health Wellness contains 5 simple yet practical things you can do to prevent Alzheimer’s from setting in early:

Image: Matthew Ragan

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