Why strenuous exercise doesn't improve your memory - but this does...

July 16, 2013
Volume 10    |   Issue 29

You can improve your memory in just 20 minutes - and you can do it without doing strenuous exercise! At least, you can if you choose a yoga workout, which a new study says improves your memory even better than aerobic exercise.

Researchers recently had study participants do just one 20-minute session of Hatha yoga daily. They  found that it significantly improved their memory test scores. They found their speed and accuracy improved on tests of working memory and inhibitory control. These are two measures of brain function associated with the ability to maintain focus and take in, retain, and use new information.

When the study participants - young, female, undergraduate students - performed moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise for the same amount of time, their test results weren't nearly as good. Neha Gothe, who led the study as a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, explained why. She said, "Yoga is an ancient Indian science and way of life that includes not only physical movements and postures but also regulated breathing and meditation. The practice involves an active attentional or mindfulness component, but its potential benefits have not been thoroughly explored." But the benefits may begin to be explored in more detail as studies like Goethe's showcase them.

The 20-minute yoga session used in the study involved a progression of seated, standing, and supine yoga poses. These included isometric contraction and relaxation of different muscle groups and regulated breathing. And they ended with a meditative posture and deep breathing. For the aerobic session, each participant walked or jogged on a treadmill for 20 minutes, aiming to maintain 60-70% of her maximum heart rate, as previous studies have shown improved cognitive performance after participants exercise at this capacity.

Gothe and her team found something different, however. Their participants showed better reaction times and accuracy on cognitive tasks after yoga. But they didn't find any significant improvements on the working memory and inhibitory control scores after aerobic exercise. According to Gothe, "It appears that following yoga practice, the participants were better able to focus their mental resources, process information quickly, more accurately and also learn, hold, and update pieces of information more effectively than after performing an aerobic exercise bout. The breathing and meditative exercises aim at calming the mind and body and keeping distracting thoughts away while you focus on your body, posture or breath."

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It isn't clear yet why yoga provides such excelled benefits. Gothe says, "Enhanced self-awareness that comes with meditational exercises is just one of the possible mechanisms. Besides, meditation and breathing exercises are known to reduce anxiety and stress, which in turn can improve scores on some cognitive tests."

While this study was performed with young women, the researchers are confident that the benefits would be similar for older adults as well. Clearly, it's a great way for people of all ages to exercise both body and mind. Yoga tends to be safer for older women as well, with few injuries.

But yoga isn't the only way you can boost your memory. Your results should improve even more when you add specific nutrients like those in Advanced Memory Formula. To protect cognition, include yoga, meditation, and nutritional support in your daily routine as early as you can.

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