Some types of exercise may be better than others when it comes to keeping your brain young and sharp.

Downward-facing dog fanciers will be glad to know that practicing hatha yoga three times a week may improve brain function, according to a study published in the Journals of Gerontology.

The study involved 108 adults between ages of 55 and 79; 61 attended hatha yoga glasses, and the others attended stretching and toning classes three times a week for eight weeks.

At the end of the eight weeks, the hatha yoga group showed improvement in brain function tests regarding information recall, mental flexibility and task-switching. The stretching-and-toning group saw no improvement in cognitive functioning.

“Hatha yoga requires focused effort in moving through the poses, controlling the body and breathing at a steady rate,” says Neha Gothe, a Wayne State University professor who led the study. “It is possible that this focus on one’s body, mind and breath during yoga practice may have generalized to situations outside of the yoga classes, resulting in an improved ability to sustain attention.”

Hatha yoga is an ancient spiritual practice that involves meditation and focused breathing while an individual moves through a series of stylized poses. Previous studies have found that the yoga practice decreases anxiety, depression and stress.

“These studies suggest that yoga has an immediate quieting effect on the sympathetic nervous system and on the body’s response to stress,” Gothe says. “Since we know that stress and anxiety can affect cognitive performance, the eight-week yoga intervention may have boosted participants’ performance by reducing their stress.”

Source: Lisa Kaplan Gordon