If you’re worried about memory loss, you might want to take up yoga. A new study suggests that the ancient relaxation techniques of yoga and meditation may help lower risk for mild cognitive impairment ("MCI", memory loss that is worse than normal for your age) and dementia.

Researchers recruited 25 older adults and asked them to participate in a battery of cognitive tests and undergo brain scans to record their brain activity. The study participants were then divided into two groups:

  • Yoga & Meditation Group: Fourteen participants were enrolled in a 12-week program consisting of one hour of Kundalini yoga (a type of yoga that incorporates chanting, deep breathing and meditation) once a week and 20 minutes of Kirtan Kriya meditation (a type of meditation that involves visualization, chanting and hand movements) each day
  • Memory Enhancement Group: The remaining 11 participants spent the 12-week study period taking part in one-hour memory enhancement training sessions once a week and completing memory exercises for 20 minutes each day

Results of the Study

At the conclusion of the study, participants were tested again and underwent a second round of brain scans. According to a paper on the study published online April 5, 2016 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers found that:

  • All participants improved in verbal memory (the ability to remember lists of words)
  • Compared with participants who underwent memory enhancement training, those who participated in yoga and meditation had significantly improved in visual-spatial memory skills (the ability to navigate and remember locations)
  • Yoga participants also made significant gains in coping skills and stress resilience, and were less likely to show symptoms of anxiety or depression

The brain scans revealed that the yoga participants—but not the memory enhancement participants—showed evidence of significant changes in brain connectivity in line with their verbal and visual-spatial memory improvements. “If you are trying to improve your memory or offset the risk for developing memory loss or dementia, a regular practice of yoga and meditation could be a simple, safe, and low-cost solution to improving your brain fitness,” said the lead author of the study.


This article originally appeared in Mind, Mood & Memory, a publication of the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital dedicated to maintaining mental fitness from middle age and beyond.

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