Here’s yet another reason to roll out your mat and move through a few downward-facing dogs- new research published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that a regular yoga practice may improve memory and protect against cognitive decline in the long term.
For the study, scientists in Brazil took images of the brains of 21 female yoga practitioners over the age of 60. They found that yogis have thicker left prefrontal cortexes, which is the area of the brain responsible for memory and attention. As we age, the left prefrontal cortex is the area that tends to thin out, leading to memory loss and impaired attention.
While this study is a small one, it makes a strong case for the importance of yoga beyond improved flexibility and reduced anxiety. And according to the study’s results, it’s likely that the longer you practice yoga for, the more protected you are. So if you have a lifelong yoga practice, good for you—you’re doing a lot to benefit your future self.
“In the same way as muscles, the brain develops through training,” says researcher Elisa Kozasa of Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in São Paulo, Brazil. “Like any contemplative practice, yoga has a cognitive component in which attention and concentration are important.”
Memory aside, a recent review of studies published last month found that mind-body interventions like yoga actually have the power to alter our DNA. By practicing yoga regularly, we actually have control over how much inflammation our bodies produce—meaning yoga can help us control our stress responses, prevent weight gain, and prevent disease.
The already long list of yoga benefits just keeps growing. If you don’t have a practice yet, it’s probably time to start one.