Hatha Yoga Practice Improves Attention and Processing Speed in Older Adults: Results from an 8-Week Randomized Control Trial

J Altern Complement Med. 2017 Jan;23(1):35-40. doi: 10.1089/acm.2016.0185. Epub 2016 Nov 3.


Background: Age-related cognitive decline is well documented across various aspects of cognitive function, including attention and processing speed, and lifestyle behaviors such as physical activity play an important role in preventing cognitive decline and maintaining or even improving cognitive function.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of an 8-week Hatha yoga intervention on attention and processing speed among older adults.

Methods: Participants (n = 118; mean age, 62 ± 5.59) were randomly assigned to an 8-week Hatha yoga group or a stretching control group and completed cognitive assessments-Attention Network Task, Trail Making Test parts A and B, and Pattern Comparison Test-at baseline and after the 8-week intervention.

Results: Analyses of covariance revealed significantly faster reaction times for the yoga group on the Attention Network Task's neutral, congruent, and incongruent conditions (p ≤ 0.04). The yoga intervention also improved participants' visuospatial and perceptual processing on the Trail Making Test part B (p = 0.002) and pattern comparison (p < 0.001) tests.

Conclusions: These results suggest that yoga practice that includes postures, breathing, and meditative exercises lead to improved attentional and information processing abilities. Although the underlying mechanisms remain largely speculative, more systematic trials are needed to explore the extent of cognitive benefits and their neurobiological mechanisms.

Keywords: cognitive function; older adults; yoga intervention.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention*
  • Breathing Exercises*
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Cognition*
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meditation*
  • Middle Aged
  • Reaction Time*
  • Spatial Processing
  • Yoga*