Medical researchers explore how yoga could slow cognitive decline

Students participate in sunset yoga and gong meditation on Horsebarn Hill on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. The event was part of National Suicide Prevention Week, and was sponsored by UConn’s Counseling and Mental Health Services. (Erika Elechicon/The Daily Campus)

Although the health benefits of yoga have been explored several times, particularly at the University of Connecticut, Providence Hospital is studying yoga’s role is slowing brain decline in Alzheimer’s patients.

According to a press release on rhodeislandhospital.org, Dr. Geoffrey Tremont, Neuropsychology Director at Rhode Island Hospital, hopes to enroll 70 patients in a 12-week, twice-weekly yoga regimen to improve “cognitive conditions among people diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.”

“The yoga program involves meditation, physical postures, breathing exercises and relaxation,” the release adds “Yoga has benefits for a variety of medical and psychiatric conditions.”

Tremont’s experiment is funded by an Alzheimer’s Association grant.

“The thing with Alzheimer’s is interesting. There is evidence that people’s brains grow and change when they do meditation and yoga,” Crystal Park, UConn professor of psychological sciences, said.

Additionally, Park mentioned research by Chantal Villemure and Catherine Bushnell of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. They did MRI scans of the brain before and after yoga and found growth in the brain.

There is a lot of evidence that yoga can help people in a variety of ways, Park said.

According to US National Institutes of Health, yoga may help with relaxation, to be more flexible, improve posture, breathe deeply and get rid of stress. According to a recently released “2016 Yoga in America Study,” about 37 million Americans now practice yoga.

Here at UConn, Park is currently studying how yoga helps people deal with stress and improve self behaviors.

Park said she is measuring stress through a self reports of people who do yoga to help relieve stress versus control groups of people who try to relieve stress through other means, such other kinds of interventions. This study is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Park does not yet have the results of this study because it is ongoing, but she said she hopes to wrap up the study this summer to have a report released this fall.

A few years ago, Park mentioned that she and kinesiology professor Linda Pescatello worked on a study with incoming freshman girls to assess the improved balance and flexibility after they participated in yoga, funded by first year programs on campus.

“That was really fun to see the psychological measures and physical strength of the girls,” Park said.

Park mentioned that there are several ways to get involved in yoga for free on campus including through the yoga club, the rec center and student mental health services.


Emma Krueger is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.krueger@uconn.edu.