I am a very firm believer in the value of consistent exercise for adults of all ages, and feel exercise just may be the closest thing we currently have that would qualify as a “fountain of youth”. Particularly exciting is the increasing amount of emerging research which would seem to indicate that, in addition to the numerous physical and emotional benefits of regular physical activity, exercise may produce beneficial effects on the brain itself, and slow down or even curtail many kinds of age-related disorders of one of our most crucial organs.
As recently detailed in The New York Times, researchers at UCLA found that a specially-designed 12-week program of yoga and meditation significantly increased the study participants’ cognitive abilities, mood, and visuospatial memory, which is important for balance, depth perception and the ability to identify objects and navigate around our environment. These study participants equaled then outperformed a control group of individuals who were given only a well-established brain training program, but did no yoga or meditation. Both groups had noticeably more communication between the parts of the brain involved with memory and language skills, but only those doing yoga/meditation showed increased communication between parts of the brain that manage attention, focus and the ability to multi-task, in addition to the other benefits listed above.
What exact mechanisms or processes produced these results isn’t immediately clear, though researchers conjecture that a reduction in anxiety and stress hormones in the yoga/meditation group could be an important factor, as well as the physical movement involved, which seems to increase levels of various biochemicals in the muscles and brain that are associated with increased brain health.
I myself have practiced yoga frequently throughout the years, and can personally attest to some of its benefits. I have also studied many different forms of meditation over a period of many decades, and highly recommend a daily practice to everyone, especially in the incredibly busy and stressful world most of us find ourselves inhabiting.
Many 50+ adults have some nervousness around beginning a yoga practice, especially if they have not been very physically active, and are afraid of ending up in a strenuous, intimidating class with 20- and 30-somethings and not being able to do the poses, keep up with the group, or perhaps injuring themselves in an unfamiliar activity. They may also not be as nimble or agile as a younger yogi or yogini, and may frequently need to modify a posture, or hold it for a shorter period of time. Internationally known and Los Angeles-based yoga expert Larry Payne, Ph.D., has developed a safe and highly effective practice called Prime of Life Yoga for mature adults, which I highly recommend. For more information on his approach, please visit his website at http://www.samata.com.
Please note: if you are not currently my patient, it is essential that you check with your physician as to your readiness to undertake any physical exercise/fitness program. If you are already my patient, and are wondering how to add more physical activity to your life, including yoga, I would be happy to assess you at your next appointment and help you to develop an individualized exercise program that will work for you, as well as give you ideas on how to begin a meditation practice. Please call my office at (310) 315-5483 to make an appointment.
I look forward to being able to help you along your road to wellness and vitality on the bodily level, but just as importantly to working to help you keep your brain intact and functioning optimally throughout a long and fulfilling lifetime!