Changes in Neural Connectivity and Memory Following a Yoga Intervention for Older Adults: A Pilot Study

J Alzheimers Dis. 2016;52(2):673-84. doi: 10.3233/JAD-150653.


Background: No study has explored the effect of yoga on cognitive decline and resting-state functional connectivity.

Objectives: This study explored the relationship between performance on memory tests and resting-state functional connectivity before and after a yoga intervention versus active control for subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Methods: Participants ( ≥ 55 y) with MCI were randomized to receive a yoga intervention or active "gold-standard" control (i.e., memory enhancement training (MET)) for 12 weeks. Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to map correlations between brain networks and memory performance changes over time. Default mode networks (DMN), language and superior parietal networks were chosen as networks of interest to analyze the association with changes in verbal and visuospatial memory performance.

Results: Fourteen yoga and 11 MET participants completed the study. The yoga group demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in depression and visuospatial memory. We observed improved verbal memory performance correlated with increased connectivity between the DMN and frontal medial cortex, pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, right middle frontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and left lateral occipital cortex. Improved verbal memory performance positively correlated with increased connectivity between the language processing network and the left inferior frontal gyrus. Improved visuospatial memory performance correlated inversely with connectivity between the superior parietal network and the medial parietal cortex.

Conclusion: Yoga may be as effective as MET in improving functional connectivity in relation to verbal memory performance. These findings should be confirmed in larger prospective studies.

Keywords: Aging; cognitive decline; memory training; mild cognitive impairment; mind-body; older adults; subjective memory complaints; yoga.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pilot Projects
  • Yoga* / psychology