Yoga Improves Cognitive Function And Mood

Yoga Improves Cognitive Function And Mood

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Low intensity yoga improved cognitive function and mood of physically inactive young adults

Research Study At A Glance

The Research Question Asked

How does low intensity stretching during yoga affect mood and cognitive function of sedentary young adults?

Type of Study

Clinical research study

Study Participants (Sample)
  • Sample size: 19 men
  • Median age: 22
  • Low physical activity level
  • Participants were otherwise healthy (no known cardiovascular, metabolic, or neurological issues)
Methods

All study participants were evaluated using a cognitive function test (the Stroop Color-Word Task) and the Profile of Moods Scale before and after a low intensity 10 minute sequence of yoga postures. The same participants were evaluated using the same tools before and after a 10 minute rest, and results were compared to the yoga treatment results.

Results

Multiple measurements of mood, as determined by the Profile of Mood Scale, improved in the yoga treatment session, including: reduced tension-anxiety, reduced depression-dejection, reduced anger-hostility, reduced fatigue, reduced confusion, and increased vigor. Cognitive function improved as determined by the Stroop test. Additionally, vigor was correlated with cognitive function; as vigor increased, cognitive function improved.

Conclusion

Low intensity stretching during yoga practice improved mood and cognitive function of sedentary young adults.

Yoga Improves Mood And Cognitive Function

Background

A sedentary lifestyle has numerous impacts on health and wellness, including reduced cardiovascular health, reduced cognitive function, and an overall increase in mortality risk. While an increase in physical activity can improve those negative health risk factors, it can also be experienced as stressful by those that are habitually inactive, which has the potential to reduce the positive effects of the increased physical activity. For those leading a sedentary lifestyle who want to increase their physical activity, low intensity stretching may be one option. The research study that I summarize here evaluated a 10 minute low intensity sequence of yoga postures to see if that type of low intensity movement would improve cognitive function and mood in sedentary individuals without causing them increased stress.

Research question

How does low intensity stretching during yoga affect mood and cognitive function of sedentary young adults?

Research methods

Nineteen male participants with a median age of 22 participated in this research study. The researchers determined that the participants fit the requirement for sedentary lifestyle by evaluating them using the short version of the International Physical Activity Questionnaire. All participants were determined to be otherwise healthy. They were free of known cardiovascular, metabolic, and neurological disease.

The group of study participants experienced both the study treatment and the control treatment. Study participants were asked to complete the Stroop Color-Word Task, which evaluates cognitive function, and the Profile of Mood Scale to evaluate mood, both before and after a low intensity, 10 minute yoga sequence. On a separate day, the same group of participants again completed the Stroop Color-Word Task and the Profile of Mood Scale, but this time the tests were completed before and after a 10 minute rest. Effects on cognitive function and mood from the yoga treatment were then compared to the control rest treatment.

The researchers used additional methods to evaluate the level of stress that participants experienced in each of the yoga and rest conditions. They had participants give a rating of perceived exertion (a measure of subjective feeling of exertion) and took saliva samples to test for the presence of stress hormones. They also monitored heart rate and then calculated the ratio of low frequency heart rate variability to high frequency heart rate variability to check for the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

Results

Researchers found the following after 10 minutes of low intensity yoga:

  • Reduced tension-anxiety
  • Reduced depression-dejection
  • Reduced anger-hostility
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Reduced confusion
  • Increased vigor
  • Increase in cognitive function

Researchers also found a correlation between the change in vigor score and the change in cognitive function. This indicated that, as vigor increased, cognitive function also increased.

Neither the yoga treatment condition nor the control rest condition had a significant effect on stress levels of the participants as measured by cortisol levels (a stress hormone), heart rate, or heart rate variability.

Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?

One of the many great aspects of yoga as a tool for supporting health and wellness, is its versatility. Yoga practice can be slow and low intensity or more dynamic and higher intensity. Its many variations make it useful and applicable to many different kinds of situations. It’s especially important for us as yoga practitioners and teachers to try to recognize the needs in a particular situation, whether our own or a student’s. This allows us to adapt how we practice yoga to what the specific situation calls for, making the yoga more effective in the moment.

Conclusion

This research emphasizes that not all yoga needs to be a high intensity vinyasa practice to be beneficial. Low intensity practice may be the better fit for some groups of practitioners, particularly when high intensity physical activity could be experienced as stressful. In that case, a low intensity yoga practice may provide more overall benefit.

Reference citation

Sudo, M. and S. Ando. 2020. Effects of acute stretching on cognitive function and mood states of physically inactive young adults. Perceptual and Motor Skills. 127(1):142-153.

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