Yoga is one of the best exercises for adults of all ages, but it becomes increasingly important as you advance in years. It's a low-impact but medium-intensity exercise that incorporates weight training by nature, it's meditative, and it enhances balance and flexibility, all of which are important as we push past 50.
Yoga benefits more than just your body. It also has a powerful effect on your mind. Here are three important ways yoga improves your brain function and your mental health.
Yoga Releases GABA
GABA is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of calm and relaxation. Insufficient GABA can cause depression and anxiety, but pharmaceutical drugs designed to increase GABA have a number of negative side-effects. Happily, just one hour of yoga boosts GABA levels by 27 percent, according to one study, which found that yoga was more effective at increasing GABA than walking.
GABA reduces anxiety, and yoga has long been touted as an effective strategy for reducing not only anxiety but also stress and depression. According to Harvard Medical School, yoga improves the body's stress response, decreasing blood pressure and heart rate and lowers your breathing rate. Regular yoga can even improve the way the body responds to stress in the future.
Yoga has been shown by a number of studies to help reduce pain and improve the body's response to pain. One study found that people who have a strong response to stress also have a strong response to pain. Lowering the stress response through yoga, the study found, can increase tolerance to pain and reduce the sensation of pain.
Yoga Boosts Gray Matter
The meditation associated with yoga promotes physical changes in the brain's volume of gray matter. Gray matter is a major component of the central nervous system and includes regions of the brain associated with memory, emotions, speech, self-control, muscle control, sensory perception, and decision-making.
A recent study found that eight weeks of mindfulness meditation increases gray matter in the brain structures that are responsible for cognitive processes like memory and attention. Another, even more recent study found that people who practice yoga regularly had greater gray matter volume in brain regions associated with cognitive and motor responses.
Yoga Improves Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of existing in the present moment, which is where your life takes place. The decisions you make right now affect what happens in the future. Focusing excessively on the future or the past leaves you open to missing what's happening now, and it can lead to less-than-optimal decision-making.
Yoga also improves mindfulness, self-awareness, and body-awareness. Awareness of mind and body also helps to keep you rooted in the present moment and can lead to greater physical and mental strength, flexibility, and balance.
Keep Your Mind Sharp as You Age
Yoga is just one way to keep your brain healthy as you age. Playing games, putting together puzzles, and learning new skills have also been shown to protect the brain against age-related changes, including dementia. Eating a healthy diet with plenty of the kind of healthy fats that come from salmon, olive oil, and avocados will also help you maintain a healthy brain and optimal cognitive function.
Another great way to maintain a healthy brain is to take a daily supplement like Thrive Naturals' Super Brain Renew, featuring a formula that provides the brain with all of the essential nutrients it needs to improve cognitive function, including memory, focus, decision-making, and mental clarity.
Taking good care of your brain as you age promotes good mental health and mental clarity, and it helps to protect against dementia. A regular yoga practice, plenty of mental exercises, and nutritional supplementation can help keep your brain powering at full speed ahead as long as you live.
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