Greater Cortical Thickness in Elderly Female Yoga Practitioners
July 22, 2017   

Yoga, mind-body activity has been associated with positive changes in brain structure and function, especially in areas related to attention, executive functions, and memory. Normal aging corresponds with structural and functional brain changes, that involve decreased cognitive function. In a recent cross-sectional study, brain cortical thickness (CT) in 21 elderly female yoga instructors, who had practiced hatha yoga for a minimum of 8 years was compared to age-matched healthy women. The healthy controls were naïve to yoga or any type of mind-body activity. A T1-weighted MRI was used for CT comparison and revealed that yoga practitioners had significantly greater CT in a left prefrontal lobe cluster. The cluster included portions of the lateral middle frontal gyrus, anterior superior frontal gyrus and dorsal superior frontal gyrus. The meditative process is associated with oxyhemoglobin concentrations in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) due to increased blood flow to that region (Deepeshwar et al., 2015; Singh et al., 2016). It is difficult to distinguish whether the increase in CT is due to the attentional component of yoga, or to the exercise. The results suggest that long-term practice of hatha yoga results in greater CT in the PFC, which may be associated with cognitive preservation in aging.

Afonso et al. Greater cortical thickness in elderly female yoga practitioners-a cross-sectional study. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. 2017, 9(201): 1-6.

Deepeshwar, et al. Hemodynamic responses on prefrontal cortex related to mediation and attentional task. Front Syst Neurosci. 2015, 8(252): doi:10.3389/fnsys.2014.00252.

Singh et al. Effect of fast and slow pranayama practice on cognitive functions in healthy volunteers. J Clin Diagn Res, 8, 10-13.