A study published in the Abstracts of the 23rd European Congress of Psychiatry drew my attention because it demonstrates the underlying mechanism of how yoga improves memory. The results have big implications for other neural diseases and how practicing yoga can maintain or improve memory or attention as we age.
Cortical thickness is described as the combined thickness of the layers of the cerebral cortex. Previous studies have established that cortical thickness of the brain is correlated with a general cognitive ability and suggests that links between mental ability and cortical thickness. In other words, cortical thickness is associated with intelligence and memory. For example, Alzheimer patients are found to have a pronounced cortical thinning.
Impairments of attention and memory are evident in early psychosis, and often lead to severe, longstanding functional disability. The study aimed to determine whether yoga is effective for cognitive impairments, and the neural mechanism underlying these effects.
It was a randomized controlled study of 12-week of yoga and aerobic exercise (walking and cycling) intervention vs wait-list control for female early psychotic patients. Memory was measured with Hong Kong List Learning Test and Digit Span test, and attention was measured with Letter Cancellation test. Cognitive data analysis was based on the Intention-to-Treat method using a mixed-model analysis. Cortical thickness analyses were performed using FreeSurfer.
A total of 140 women were recruited and randomized into three groups. For imaging data, 42 participants were used for cortical thickness analyses; and 60 were included for neural connectivity analyses. The Yoga group demonstrated significant improvements in working memory, verbal acquisition and attention. Cortical thickness increased in the postcentral gyrus and neural connectivity increased after yoga intervention.
It was concluded that yoga is effective for memory and attention improvements in early psychotic patients. The increases of cortical thickness and neural connectivity indicate the neural mechanisms underlying these improvements.
The larger implication is that yoga may be a promising non-pharmaceutical way of maintaining or improving memory and attention as we age. Om Ya!