Yoga can slow down dementia

A new study shows that yoga can be used to slow down cognitive impairment and dementia in adults aged 55 and over. The results of the study are clear and show that yoga has a greater positive impact on cognitive ability than strength and conditioning training. The study was conducted at the School of Health and Welfare at Jönköping University in collaboration with Region Jönköping County.

A woman sitting on a jetty doing yoga

Photo: Shahariar Lenin från Pixabay

Exercise is often mentioned as an important factor contributing to improved cognitive function and the relationship between exercise and cognition has received considerable attention in scientific literature. Cognition is the brain's ability to receive, store, process and retrieve information. Cognitive impairments can be, for example, difficulties in learning and development, difficulties in focusing on something or following an instruction on how to do something.

With many studies presenting varying and sometimes conflicting results on the extent to which exercise can affect cognition, a new study has been conducted to summarize the effects of physical exercise on cognitive functions such as global cognition, executive function, memory, attention and processing speed. The study, which is a collaboration between Jönköping University (JU) and Region Jönköping County, summarizes the results from more than 300 original studies with more than 20,000 participants in healthy people over 55 years of age from all over the world.

Yoga has greater effect on cognitive abilities than strength and conditioning training

The results of the study are clear. Strength training and fitness or exercise activities aimed at improving fitness and oxygen uptake, have only a small effect on cognitive ability. Yoga, on the other hand, has a moderate positive effect on cognitive ability and is more likely to lead to a noticeable change in cognitive functions. Regular yoga practice over a longer period of time is more beneficial for promoting cognitive function than a single practice of yoga. Yoga also has greater potential to slow age-related cognitive decline, such as dementia, than strength and conditioning training.

“Yoga combines breathing control with various physical exercises, which affect the autonomic nervous system and downregulate sympathetic activity. It is simply a method for managing and counteracting stress, which improves emotional control, body control, well-being and improves attention, memory and other cognitive functions", says Peter Blomstrand, assistant professor at the School of Health and Welfare at JU.

The researchers now recommend that yoga or other forms of yoga such as tai chi or qigong should be integrated into older people's regular exercise routines to maintain good cognitive health.

“To improve physical, mental, and cognitive health, it is important to be physically active in old age. We recommend exercising both strength, fitness, and some form of yoga to have a healthy aging where yoga helps to have good cognitive health”, says Nerrolyn Ramstrand, professor at the School of Health and Welfare at JU.

Extensive research project

The study is called "Mind body exercise improves cognitive function more than aerobic – and resistance exercise in healthy adults aged 55 years and older - an umbrella review" and is a collaboration between Jönköping University and Region Jönköping County. The research team consists of Peter Blomstrand, Dario Tesan, Elisabeth Mueller Nylander and Nerrolyn Ramstrand from the School of Health and Welfare at JU.

The study is published in the scientific journal European Review of Aging and Physical Activity and can be read here.

The research team has previously published an article in Transnational Sports Medicine 2020 on how a short physical training session could improve cognitive functions and the ability of young adults to learn. The article was widely disseminated and attracted the attention of some 50 editorial offices worldwide, such as the Times and CNN.