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Study: Yoga could make you a better thinker

You're not just exercising your arms and legs with that downward dog: Yoga could also be improving your brain function.

A new study at the University of Illinois followed more than 100 adults and found that adults aged 55 to 79 improved their memory after practicing hatha yoga three times a week for eight weeks. Hatha yoga, the most common yoga form in America, is more than just stretching in painful poses — it also requires breathing techniques, meditation, and focus, which are meant to lower anxiety and stress.

After eight weeks, the 61 participants who had done hatha yoga were "speedier and more accurate on tests of information recall, mental flexibility, and task-switching" than they were before the study, the researchers said in a statement. The study, published in The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, controlled for demographic factors including age, gender, and social status. The researchers speculated that the meditative aspect of yoga may have improved the participants' brain functioning, though they added that more research is needed.

"Participants in the yoga intervention group showed significant improvements in working memory capacity, which involves continually updating and manipulating information," said Edward McAuley, a professor at the University of Illinois and co-author of the study. "They were also able to perform the task at hand quickly and accurately, without getting distracted. These mental functions are relevant to our everyday functioning, as we multitask and plan our day-to-day activities."