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Research: Kundalini yoga provides cognitive benefits to postmenopausal women at risk of Alzheimer's

Kundalini yoga benefits cognition and memory in older women at risk of Alzheimer’s according to new research by UCLA Health
The study – led by Dr Helen Lavretsky – aimed to assess Kundalini yoga's potential in preventing cognitive decline
Over 60 postmenopausal women (aged 50 and over) participated, with one group doing Kundalini yoga and the other memory training
The yoga group showed improvements in subjective memory, brain health and gene expression, suggesting its complementary role alongside memory training.
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A new study by UCLA Health found Kundalini yoga provided several benefits to cognition and memory for older women at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Benefits included restoring neural pathways, preventing brain matter decline and reversing ageing and inflammation-associated biomarkers – improvements not seen in a group who received standard memory training exercises.

Led by Dr Helen Lavretsky, the study sought to determine whether Kundalini yoga can be used early on to prevent cognitive decline and trajectories of Alzheimer’s among postmenopausal women.

The research involved over 60 postmenopausal women aged 50 and over with self-reported memory issues and cerebrovascular risk factors.

They were divided into two groups: one participating in weekly 60-minute Kundalini yoga sessions – focusing on meditation and breathwork – and the other undergoing weekly memory enhancement training over 12 weeks. Both groups also received daily homework assignments.

Researchers assessed the women’s cognition, subjective memory, depression and anxiety after the first 12 weeks and again 12 weeks later to determine how stable any improvements were.

Blood samples were also taken to test for gene expression of ageing markers and for molecules associated with inflammation, which are contributing factors to Alzheimer’s. A handful of patients were also assessed with MRIs to monitor any brain changes.

Researchers found the Kundalini yoga group participants saw several improvements not experienced by the memory enhancement training group. These participants experienced significant improvements in subjective memory complaints, prevention of brain matter declines, increased connectivity in the hippocampus, and positive changes in gene expression related to inflammation and ageing markers.

“That is what yoga is good for – to reduce stress and inflammation and to improve brain health, neuroplasticity and subjective memory performance,” Lavretsky said.

Among the memory enhancement training group, the main improvements were found to be in the participants’ long-term memory.

Neither group saw changes in anxiety, depression, stress or resilience, though Lavretsky said this is likely because the participants were relatively healthy and were not depressed.

While the long-term effects of Kundalini yoga on preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s disease require further study, Lavretsky said the study demonstrates that using yoga and memory training in tandem could provide more comprehensive benefits to the cognition of older women.

“Ideally, people should do both because they do train different parts of the brain and have different overall health effects,” she said.

“Yoga has this anti-inflammatory, stress-reducing, anti-ageing neuroplastic brain effect which would be complementary to memory training.”  

More about the study

Published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, the study is called Cognitive and immunological effects of yoga compared to memory training in older women at risk for alzheimer’s disease.

It's the latest in a series of studies led by UCLA Health researchers over the past 15 years into the comparative effects of yoga and traditional memory enhancement training on slowing cognitive decline and addressing other risk factors of dementia.

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A new study by UCLA Health found Kundalini yoga provided several benefits to cognition and memory for older women at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
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