Dementia describes a cluster of symptoms associated with brain damage, such as memory loss and problem-solving. The condition mainly affects people over the age of 65, although it is not a natural part of ageing. While it is not known how to prevent dementia, breakthroughs in research suggest making healthy lifestyle decisions can reduce your risk and prevent symptoms from getting worse.
According to Alzheimer’s Society, of all the lifestyle changes that have been studied, taking regular physical exercise appears to be one of the most effective strategies for reducing your risk of getting dementia.
The existing body of research has mainly focused on the benefits of engaging in aerobic exercise to reduce your risk.
Several studies looking at the effect of aerobic exercise (exercise that increases your heart rate) in middle-aged or older adults have reported improvements in thinking and memory, and reduced rates of dementia.
In addition to aerobic exercise, however, yoga has also been championed for its ability to boost brain health.
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Each of the studies used brain-imaging techniques such as MRI, functional MRI or single-photon emission computerized tomography.
All involved Hatha yoga, which includes body movements, meditation and breathing exercises.
“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,” said University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Neha Gothe, who led the research with Wayne State University psychology professor Jessica Damoiseaux.
She added: ”For example, we see increases in the volume of the hippocampus with yoga practice.”
Many studies looking at the brain effects of aerobic exercise have shown a similar increase in hippocampus size over time, she said.
The hippocampus is involved in memory processing and is known to shrink with age, Gothe said: “It is also the structure that is first affected in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Bolstering the findings, another study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that yoga and meditation are more effective than memory exercises for preventing the mental decline that often precedes Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease, which leads to memory loss and difficulty thinking, is the most common cause of dementia.