This year, Julianne Moore won the Academy Award for her striking performance in Still Alice. Moore’s depiction of a middle-aged linguistic professor at Columbia University suffering from an early onset of Alzheimer’s brought an incurable disease—which affects more than 5 million Americans—to the attention of the masses.

Recent statistics have revealed that women as young as 35 years of age can be affected by it. While there is no known cure for it, neurologists say that you can cut your risk by adhering to healthy lifestyle practices.

Can You Prevent Alzheimer’s?
Eating right, exercising regularly and keeping your mind active can all significantly cut down the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. And while we are on the topic of prevention, newer research suggests that the ancient mind-body art of yoga and meditation can play an important role in preventing and improving the symptoms of the disease, which is the most common form of dementia and the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.

Yoga & Meditation For Alzheimer’s
One of the most serious implications of Alzheimer’s disease is dementia (a general term for memory loss), which can interfere and impair your day-to-day activities. Yoga is a brain exercise in itself and helps engage different parts of the brain through the use of various movements. The various components—breathing, chanting, meditating, postures—can stimulate brain activity and improve cognitive skills. This can help the brain form new connections and recover from injuries.[1]

Improving Memory With Yoga
Several studies have highlighted the usefulness of yoga and other mind-body practices in dealing with the daily struggles of a person living with Alzheimer’s. One of the most notable studies published in the Journal Aging suggested that in addition to healthy lifestyle choices, eating habits and an appropriate amount of exercise, a structured dose of yoga on a daily basis can improve memory loss, which may even be reversed and the improvement sustained. [3]

Yoga and meditation can not only help reduce the progression of cognitive decline, but also prevent it. A small pilot study carried out in 2013 found that people who practiced mindfulness meditation showed less atropy in the hippocampus area of the brain. [2]

Stress Reduction With Yoga & Meditation
Neurologists insist that chronic stress can negatively affect the brain structures that are important for memory and cognition. It can also initiate inflammation in the body, which can affect your brain and cause other aging disorders. Highly regarded for its anti-anxiety and stress-reducing characteristics, yoga and meditation can help people with Alzheimer’s cope more effectively and protect the body from any adverse stress responses. [4] Yoga can also help deal with a shocking diagnosis of an early onset of Alzheimer’s for individuals like the character played by Moore.

Start with a chair yoga class, where all the poses and stretches are performed seated in a chair or standing and holding on to the chair for convenience. [4] Older participants who are too frail to stand can benefit from this class. Here are five poses you can try:

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References:

1. Mishra SK, Singh P, Bunch SJ, Zhang R. The therapeutic value of yoga in neurological disorders. Ann Indian Acad Neurol. 2012 Oct;15(4):247-54. doi:10.4103/0972-2327.104328. PubMed PMID: 23349587; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3548360.

2. Innes KE, Selfe TK. Meditation as a therapeutic intervention for adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease – potential benefits and underlying mechanisms.Front Psychiatry. 2014 Apr 23;5:40. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2014.00040. eCollection 2014. Review. PubMed PMID: 24795656; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4005947.

3. Bredesen DE. Reversal of cognitive decline: a novel therapeutic program. Aging (Albany NY). 2014 Sep;6(9):707-17. PubMed PMID: 25324467; PubMed Central PMCID:PMC4221920.

4. McCaffrey R, Park J, Newman D, Hagen D. The effect of chair yoga in older adults with moderate and severe Alzheimer’s disease. Res Gerontol Nurs. 2014 Jul-Aug;7(4):171-7. doi: 10.3928/19404921-20140218-01. Epub 2014 Feb 26. PubMed PMID: 24568209.