Yoga May Boost Aging Brains

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . .

Older women who practice yoga may have greater “thickness” in areas of the brain involved in memory and attention, a small study suggests.

Researchers found that even compared with other healthy, active women their age, yoga practitioners typically had greater cortical thickness in the brain’s left prefrontal cortex.

That could be good news because, as the researchers pointed out, cognitive impairment from aging is usually associated with less volume in cortical areas of the brain associated with attention tasks, and decreases in memory.

But experts said it’s not clear what conclusions can be drawn from the study’s findings.

The findings are based on one-time brain scans of fewer than 50 women — and they do not prove that yoga, itself, altered anyone’s brain structure, according to senior researcher Elisa Kozasa.

The brain differences might have existed before the women ever tried yoga, said Kozasa, a researcher at Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

But the study does add to a bigger body of evidence on yoga and brain function, said Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a researcher who was not involved in the work.

“This contributes to the evidence that yoga practice has neuroplastic effects on the brain that may translate into other health benefits — like better mood and cognition,” said Lavretsky, a professor-in-residence of psychiatry at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine.

“Neuroplasticity” refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself and form new connections among cells over the course of a lifetime.

In her own research, Lavretsky has found some evidence that yoga benefits older adults’ brain function.

In a recent pilot study, her team tested the effects of weekly yoga classes among 25 older adults who were showing early signs of memory problems. The participants were randomly assigned to 12 weeks of yoga — which included some movement, breathing practices and meditation — or 12 weeks of “brain games.”

In the end, both groups were doing a little better on standard memory tests, compared with the study’s outset. But the yoga group showed a bigger change.

According to Lavretsky, it’s possible that yoga benefits the brain over time by easing day-to-day stress. Or, she said, yoga practices might have a more direct effect on “brain fitness.”

Kozasa pointed out that yoga involves a “cognitive component,” where practitioners hone their ability to concentrate while consciously holding poses, performing breathing exercises and meditating.

Her team was interested in whether long-time practitioners actually show a difference in their brain structure.

So they performed brain scans of 42 women age 60 and older. Half of the women regularly practiced yoga — for the past 15 years, on average. The rest were healthy and physically active, but did not practice yoga.

Women in both groups also had similarly high education levels.

“Even with those similarities,” Kozasa said, “the yoga group presented a greater cortical thickness in brain regions involved in executive functions such as attention.”

However, there could be other explanations for the findings, Lavretsky said — such as differences in the two groups’ other lifestyle choices, sleep habits, or perceived stress levels.

Kozasa agreed. What’s needed, she said, is a long-term study that charts brain changes in yoga practitioners and non-practitioners over time.

And while some research suggests that yoga boosts memory and attention, it’s not clear whether the practice can curb older adults’ risk of dementia.

“It is too soon to state that yoga can protect your brain against dementia,” Kozasa stressed.

Still, she said, there’s no reason for older adults to delay trying yoga if they are interested.

“If practiced with an experienced instructor, older adults may get benefits from yoga for their mental and physical health,” Kozasa said.

The findings were published online recently in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Source: HealthDay


Today’s Comic

Stretches: The Forgotten Exercise

Regina Boyle Wheeler wrote . . . . . .

Along with aerobic and strength training, stretching is an important part of every workout routine. But many people make the mistake of skipping this key step or doing certain stretches at the wrong time.

Stretching improves flexibility and helps maintain good range of motion in your joints. It may even prevent injury. Timing is important, though.

Starting your workout with dynamic stretches can prep your body for the exercise to come, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). These are stretches that take your body through a range of motions and raise your core temperature.

On the other hand, static stretches — stretches you get into and hold for a certain length of time without moving — before exercise can strain or pull a muscle. So, save such stretches for after your workout when your muscles are warm and loose, the ACE says.

It’s important to keep safety in mind when you’re doing static stretches in particular. Ease into each stretch and move slowly until you feel the targeted muscle or muscles gently extend. Try to hold each position for 10 to 30 seconds. Relax and then repeat the stretch two or three times. Breathe slowly and naturally.

Be sure to stretch the muscles on both sides of your body. If you stretch one hamstring, don’t forget to do the other. And to avoid tearing a muscle don’t bounce.

Remember to listen to your body as you stretch. If a particular move causes a muscle cramp or pain of any kind, stop doing it.

Source : HealthDay


Top Ten Reasons to Stretch According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE)

Since flexibility is one of the five components of fitness, it is important to impress upon your clients that stretching should be an integral part of every workout program. Here are ACE’s Top Ten Reasons to help your clients remember why they should stretch:

1. Decreases muscle stiffness and increases range of motion.

Stretching helps improve your range of motion which may also slow the degeneration of the joints.

2. May reduce your risk of injury.

A flexible muscle is less likely to become injured from a slightly extensive movement. By increasing the range of motion in a particular joint through stretching, you may decrease the resistance on your muscles during various activities.

3. Helps relieve post-exercise aches and pains.

After a hard workout, stretching the muscles will keep them loose and lessen a shortening and tightening effect that can lead to post-workout aches and pains.

4. Improves posture.

Stretching the muscles of the lower back, shoulders and chest will help keep your back in better alignment and improve your posture.

5. Helps reduce or manage stress.

Well stretched muscles hold less tension and therefore, leave you feeling less stressed.

6. Reduces muscular tension and enhances muscular relaxation.

Stretching allows the muscles to relax. Habitually tense muscles tend to cut off their own circulation resulting in a lack of oxygen and essential nutrients.

7. Improves mechanical efficiency and overall functional performance.

Since a flexible joint requires less energy to move through a wider range of motion, a flexible body improves overall performance by creating more energy-efficient movements.

8. Prepares the body for the stress of exercise.

Stretching prior to exercise allows the muscles to loosen up and become resistant to the impact they are about to undergo.

9. Promotes circulation.

Stretching increases blood supply to the muscles and joints which allow for greater nutrient transportation and improves the circulation of blood through the entire body.

10. Decreases the risk of low-back pain.

Flexibility in the hamstrings, hip flexors and muscles attached to the pelvis relieves stress on the lumbar spine which in turn reduces the risk of low-back pain.

Source : ACE

Yoga May Help Ease Depression

If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you probably know that it can help relax your body and your mind. Now, several new studies suggest that practicing yoga may also ease depression.

But the leader of a session on yoga and depression held Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA) in Washington, D.C., emphasized the research is preliminary.

“At this time, we can only recommend yoga as a complementary approach, likely most effective in conjunction with standard approaches delivered by a licensed therapist,” psychologist Lindsey Hopkins said in an APA news release.

“Clearly, yoga is not a cure-all. However, based on empirical evidence, there seems to be a lot of potential,” added Hopkins. She is a clinical psychologist at the San Francisco VA Medical Center.

Hopkins conducted a study that included 23 male veterans who took part in twice-weekly hatha yoga classes for eight weeks. Hatha yoga emphasizes physical exercises, along with meditative and breathing exercises.

Participants who began the study with elevated depression scores saw their symptoms ease significantly after eight weeks, the findings showed.

A second study looked at Bikram (hot) yoga and included 52 women aged 25 to 45. Those who did twice-weekly classes for eight weeks had sharply reduced depression symptoms compared to a control group that did not take the classes.

Another study of 29 adults found eight weeks of at least twice-weekly Bikram yoga significantly eased depression while also improving quality of life, optimism, and mental and physical functioning.

A number of other studies have yielded similar findings, the news release said.

The concept of yoga as a way to improve mental health is so promising that the U.S. military is investigating creation of its own yoga treatment programs, according to the release.

Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Source: HealthDay


Read also:

As Many as 1 in 3 Experience New or Worse Pain With Yoga . . . . .


Today’s Comic

Even a One-Minute Run Might Help a Woman’s Bones

Just a minute or two of running every day could strengthen your bones, new research suggests.

British scientists found that women who engage in “brief bursts” of any high-intensity, weight-bearing physical activity had 4 percent better bone health than their less active peers.

“We don’t yet know whether it’s better to accumulate this small amount of exercise in bits throughout each day or all at once, and also whether a slightly longer bout of exercise on one or two days per week is just as good as one to two minutes a day,” said study author Victoria Stiles. She’s a senior lecturer in Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter.

“But there’s a clear link between this kind of high-intensity, weight-bearing exercise and better bone health in women,” Stiles said in a university news release.

For the study, the researchers compared data on more than 2,500 women. The women wore monitors for one week to track their activity levels, and underwent ultrasounds of their heel bones to assess their bone health.

“We wanted to make every second count in our analysis, because short snippets of high-intensity activity are more beneficial to bone health than longer, continuous periods,” Stiles said. “We were careful not to ignore short bursts of activity throughout the day.”

Women who exercised intensely for more than two minutes each day had 6 percent better bone health. For younger women, this was the equivalent of a medium-paced run. For postmenopausal women, this meant a slow jog, the researchers said.

Since the findings are based on a particular group of women at a specific point in time, it’s unclear if the intense physical activity improved the women’s bone health or if women with stronger bones tend to do more of this type of exercise. So, the study did not prove that running causes bone health to improve.

“However, it seems likely that just one to two minutes of running a day is good for bone health,” Stiles said.

Source: HealthDay


Today’s Comic

How Physical Exercise Prevents Dementia

Numerous studies have shown that physical exercise seems beneficial in the prevention of cognitive impairment and dementia in old age. Now researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt have explored in one of the first studies worldwide how exercise affects brain metabolism.

In order to further advance current state of knowledge on the positive influence of physical activity on the brain, gerontologists and sports physicians at Goethe University Frankfurt have examined the effects of regular exercise on brain metabolism and memory of 60 participants aged between 65 and 85 in a randomised controlled trial. Their conclusion: regular physical exercise not only enhances fitness but also has a positive impact on brain metabolism.

As the researchers report in the current issue of the medical journal “Translational Psychiatry”, they thoroughly examined all the participants in the SMART study (Sport and Metabolism in Older Persons, an MRT Study) by assessing movement-related parameters, cardiopulmonary fitness and cognitive performance. In addition, magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) were used to measure brain metabolism and brain structure. Following this examination, the participants mounted an exercise bike three times a week over a period of 12 weeks. The 30-minute training sessions were individually adapted to each participant’s performance level. The participants were examined again after the end of the programme in order to document the effects of this physical activity on brain metabolism, cognitive performance and brain structure. The researchers also investigated to what extent exercise had led to an improvement in the participants’ physical fitness. The study was conducted by the Gerontology Department of the Institute of General Medicine (headed by Professor Johannes Pantel) and the Department of Sports Medicine (led by Professor Winfried Banzer).

As expected, physical activity had influenced brain metabolism: it prevented an increase in choline. The concentration of this metabolite often rises as a result of the increased loss of nerve cells, which typically occurs in the case of Alzheimer’s disease. Physical exercise led to stable cerebral choline concentrations in the training group, whereas choline levels increased in the control group. The participants’ physical fitness also improved: they showed increased cardiac efficiency after the training period. Overall, these findings suggest that physical exercise not only improves physical fitness but also protects cells.

Source: Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main