Monday, August 30, 2010

Help for your Brain

Walking, Yoga Helps Your Brain
By John M Grohol PsyD

Dr. John Grohol is the CEO and founder of Psych Central. He has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues, and the intersection of technology and psychology since 1992.

Two recent studies (August 2010) week demonstrate connections between practicing yoga and simple walking may work to help improve your brain health. Previous research has linked exercise to helping keep our brains healthy. The two latest studies independently found that walking and yoga may help our brain health in different ways.

To study the effects of walking on brain health, researchers followed a group of older adult “couch potatoes” — ages 59 to 80 — who joined a walking group, or stretching and toning group for a year…

All of the participants were sedentary before the study, reporting less than two episodes of physical activity lasting 30 minutes or more in the previous six months. The researchers also measured brain activity in 32 younger (18- to 35-year-old) adults.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers then measured the default mode network (DMN) in the brain. DMN dominates brain activity when a person isn’t doing much of anything, such as watching TV or daydreaming. What did they find?
- At the end of the year, DMN connectivity was significantly improved in the brains of the older walkers, but not in the stretching and toning group, the researchers report.
- The walkers also had increased connectivity in parts of another brain circuit (the fronto-executive network, which aids in the performance of complex tasks) and they did significantly better on cognitive tests than their toning and stretching peers.

For the yoga study, researchers looked at the brain’s GABA levels. Low GABA levels are thought to be associated with depression and anxiety disorders.

Two groups of healthy people were followed over a 12-week period—one group practicing yoga, the other walking as a form of exercise. The yoga group exercised for one hour three times per week, and the walking group completed their exercise regimen in the same fashion.
GABA levels were measured by the research team using magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging (MRSI), a device typically used to diagnose metabolic and brain disorders. The participants’ brains were scanned before the beginning of the study as well as before and after the final exercise session.

- Participants in the yoga group had significantly increased levels of GABA at the end of the study. Subjectively, yoga participants also noted greater improvement in their mood and anxiety compared to those who walked.

So to put this into some sort of context… Perhaps yoga is even better for you than walking, but walking is pretty good too. If you want to give your brain a regular boost, this adds additional evidence to our existing knowledge that exercise — all kinds of exercise — will help. You can probably do nothing better to keep your brain mentally healthy than to engage in some sort of regular exercise.

Link to Psych Central Blog

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