Hatha Yoga
In the study, older participants who attended hatha yoga sessions for two months performed better on cognitive tasks than the others.GoToVan/Flickr

Yoga can help improve cognitive ability at old age, according to a new study.

Yoga is a process of uniting the body, mind and spirit and has long been known to help keep mind and body relaxed and healthy. Hatha yoga, a combination of meditation, focused breathing and postures, is one of the most popular forms of yoga in the world. Hatha, according to Yoga Swami Svatmarama means "to stick fast, to be devoted and to hold closely or firmly" and yoga means "to unite, to associate, to yoke and to join."

In the study, older participants who attended hatha yoga sessions for two months performed better on cognitive tasks than the others.

"Hatha yoga requires focused effort in moving through the poses, controlling the body and breathing at a steady rate," lead researcher Neha Gothe, professor at Wayne State University, United States, said in a news release. "It is possible that this focus on one's body, mind and breath during yoga practice may have generalized to situations outside of the yoga classes, resulting in an improved ability to sustain attention."

Nearly 108 people aged between 55 and 79, took part in the study. Of the total participants, 61 received hatha yoga sessions thrice a week, while the rest attended stretching and toning exercise sessions.

Researchers measured participants' ability at information recall, mental flexibility and task switching, both before and after the yoga sessions. Performance of the yoga group was "speedier and more accurate" than the latter, researchers noted.

"Participants in the yoga intervention group showed significant improvements in working memory capacity, which involves continually updating and manipulating information," researcher Edward McAuley, from the Kinesiology and Community Health, University of Illinois, said. "They were also able to perform the task at hand quickly and accurately, without getting distracted. These mental functions are relevant to our everyday functioning, as we multitask and plan our day-to-day activities."

Yoga helped improve cognitive performance by reducing stress, the authors said. "Since we know that stress and anxiety can affect cognitive performance, the eight-week yoga intervention may have boosted participants' performance by reducing their stress," Gothe explained.

Findings of the study have been reported in The Journals of Gerontology.

Following are some health benefits of performing hatha yoga, according to experts at Yogayoga.com:

  • Helps improve flexibility and build strength
  • Helps improve concentration
  • Relieves stress, helps remain calm
  • Improves breathing
  • Helps achieve physical and mental balance