Yoga Prevents Gray Matter Atrophy in Women at Risk for Alzheimer's Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial

J Alzheimers Dis. 2022;87(2):569-581. doi: 10.3233/JAD-215563.


Background: Female sex, subjective cognitive decline (SCD), and cardiovascular risk factors (CVRFs) are known risk factors for developing Alzheimer's disease (AD). We previously demonstrated that yoga improved depression, resilience, memory and executive functions, increased hippocampal choline concentrations, and modulated brain connectivity in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.

Objective: In this study (NCT03503669), we investigated brain gray matter volume (GMV) changes in older women with SCD and CVRFs following three months of yoga compared to memory enhancement training (MET).

Methods: Eleven women (mean age = 61.45, SD = 6.58) with CVRF and SCD completed twelve weeks of Kundalini Yoga and Kirtan Kriya (KY + KK) while eleven women (mean age = 64.55, SD = 6.41) underwent MET. Anxiety, resilience, stress, and depression were assessed at baseline and 12 weeks, as were T1-weighted MRI scans (Siemens 3T Prisma scanner). We used Freesurfer 6.0 and tested group differences in GMV change, applying Monte-Carlo simulations with alpha = 0.05. Region-of-interest analysis was performed for hippocampus and amygdala.

Results: Compared to KY + KK, MET showed reductions in GMV in left prefrontal, pre- and post-central, supramarginal, superior temporal and pericalcarine cortices, right paracentral, postcentral, superior and inferior parietal cortices, the banks of the superior temporal sulcus, and the pars opercularis. Right hippocampal volume increased after yoga but did not survive corrections.

Conclusion: Yoga training may offer neuroprotective effects compared to MET in preventing neurodegenerative changes and cognitive decline, even over short time intervals. Future analyses will address changes in functional connectivity in both groups.

Keywords: Brain; Kirtan Kriya; Kundalini; MRI; cardiovascular risk; gray matter; memory; memory training; mind-body; prevention; women; yoga.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease* / diagnostic imaging
  • Alzheimer Disease* / pathology
  • Alzheimer Disease* / prevention & control
  • Atrophy / pathology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / diagnostic imaging
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / pathology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Yoga*

Associated data