Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Yoga v walking for mood?

Dr Chris C Streeter of Boston University School of Medicine compared the effects of walking to yoga and the impact on mood in healthy people.

Previous research had shown that yoga increases a neurotransmitter, called GABA, in the brain. Increasing GABA is linked to less anxiety and depression, and cuts PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Increasing levels of GABA is one approach used in medicines to treat these conditions.

The current study was designed to see if yoga’s known beneficial effects on mood were due to GABA effects, or simply due to exercising (which also improves mood, depression etc). So Dr Streeter tried to match the exercise content of walking with the exercise content of yoga, to see which would win.

Brain scans were used to check on activity in the thalamus. This is an area of the brain involved in mood, and it gets more active at higher levels of GABA.

This is where things went a bit different to what the research team thought would happen.

The yoga group showed a bigger improvement in mood than the walking group. And the yoga people appeared to show more activity in the thalamus, so more GABA. So far so good.

However, the number of people completing the study was small, and the improvement in GABA was not statistically significant. The groups also had a couple of key differences – the yoga group drank more alcohol, while the walking group exercised more when out of the yoga/walking comparison. Perhaps the walkers improved less because they were already getting lots of benefit from exercise.

Or could it be that the yoga group got certified instructors in lyengar yoga, while the walking group got to walk around the inside of gym for an hour per session?

The jury is out, but the research did turn up one key finding.

This study lasted 12 weeks and involved people new to yoga, and it produced about half the increase in GABA that previous studies with experienced practitioners had reported. So if you want to get the full mood benefits of yoga, you’re going to have to stick with it for a fair while.


November 13, 2010 - Posted by | Activity, Anxiety, Brain, Depression, Exercise, PTSD, Success, Walking

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