How yoga and meditation help people

Yoga and meditation keep the brain young

Yoga and meditation are considered healthy and relaxing. Now it has been shown that they can even protect our brain from the signs of old age: Neuroscientists have found that people who practice yoga or meditation on a regular basis have better internal brain networks. The resulting stronger exchange of information counteracts the normal decline in certain intellectual performance with age, according to the researchers.

With age, our brain function and our cognitive abilities decrease. This also includes what is known as fluid intelligence, which is required to solve new types of tasks. It has long been known that this normal breakdown can be slowed down through exercise and targeted cognitive training. So far, it was unclear whether relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation could also help. Tim Gard of Harvard Medical School in Boston and his colleagues have now investigated this in more detail.

More mindfulness, more intelligence

For their study, the researchers examined the cognitive performance and brain activity of 16 yoga practitioners, 16 meditators and 15 control persons of different ages. All participants took part in several different intelligence tests that specifically tested fluid intelligence in addition to memory and verbal intelligence. In addition, the scientists subjected their test subjects to brain scans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They analyzed the flow of information between 116 brain regions.

The result: In meditators and yoga practitioners, the fluid intelligence decreased more slowly with increasing age than in the control persons. "This agrees well with previous studies that found that meditators are more mindful than non-meditators and that it decreases less with age," explain Gard and colleagues. The current results now extend this to the entire area of ​​fluid intelligence and also show that yoga can also reduce the age-related losses in this area.

Brain areas better networked

This positive effect of yoga and meditation was also reflected in the brain activity of the participants: in the resting state, the different brain areas were more closely networked, information between different brain regions was processed and classified more efficiently. As the researchers explain, this fits in with the fact that the brain networks of younger and more intelligent people are also better integrated with the various pieces of information.

The brain networks of meditators and yoga practitioners also had a greater resistance to simulated damage, as the scientists report: Even if the most important brain regions were excluded from the analysis, the flow of information in the remaining network was still efficient.

According to the researchers, these results indicate that yoga and meditation can reduce the negative effects of age on intelligence and the brain. “It is fascinating that yoga and meditation can perhaps help us stay intelligent and keep our brain young and efficient,” notes Gard. (Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 2014; doi: 10.3389 / fnagi.2014.00076)

(Justus Liebig University Giessen, May 8, 2014 - NPO)

May 8, 2014