CHAMPAIGN, Illinois — There’s no shortage of scientific evidence that aerobic exercise is good for the brain. Imaging studies have shown that getting the heart pumping from a strong jog or bike ride strengthens connections in many brain networks and helps new neurons grow. Not nearly as many studies have investigated the benefits of yoga exercise, but scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign say research shows that yoga strengthens many of the same brain networks as aerobic exercise.
The research team conducted a review of 11 peer-reviewed studies that combine brain imaging with yoga practices. Yoga, of course, combines physical postures, rhythmic breathing and meditative exercises, but it is not aerobic in nature.
The review included five studies that trained non-practitioners in at least one yoga session a week for 10-24 weeks. Researchers used various brain imaging techniques in these studies to compare the brain health of participants before and after the yoga intervention. In the other six studies, researchers analyzed the brain scans of regular yoga practitioners and people who don’t practice to identify differences in their scans. Researchers note that many of the studies are exploratory and not driven by hypothesis.
“From these 11 studies, we identified some brain regions that consistently come up, and they are surprisingly not very different from what we see with exercise research,” says University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Neha Gothe, in a release. She led the research with Wayne State University psychology professor Jessica Damoiseaux.
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The study is published in Brain Plasticity.