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Studying how your brain reacts on yoga

Exercise has long been hailed as an elixir for the brain, to boost your mood, improve learning, and ward off memory loss. But yoga may be even better. A small study involving 30 female college students, who weren’t regular practitioners of yoga, found that they performed better on cognitive tests after performing yoga for 20 minutes as compared to when they jogged on a treadmill before the tests. How to explain the difference?

“While practicing yoga, you are focused on your breath and mindfully aware of your postures,” said study author Neha Gothe, an exercise psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “These mental exercises seem to affect the way you think and focus outside of yoga practice. The practice also reduces anxiety and stress, and that in itself can lead to better cognitive performance.”

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The mental performance boost lasted 30 to 40 minutes after the yoga session, but more research is needed to determine whether regular yoga practice leads to more sustained brain benefits in terms of learning, memory, and focus. On the other hand, the researchers didn’t see much cognitive boost at all from aerobic exercise compared to cognitive tests taken before the exercise sessions.

Yoga may have a more “immediate” effect, Gothe speculated, whereas aerobic exercise may have more of a “delayed” effect in terms of providing a cognitive boost.

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