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Neha Gothe got a grant to study yoga and cognition

KCH’s Gothe gets NIA grant to expand yoga and neurocognitive benefits

Kinesiology and Community Health assistant professor Neha Gothe has received a grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a division of the National Institutes of Health, to expand upon her research into the neurocognitive benefits of yoga practice and comparing it with aerobic and stretching-strengthening exercises.

This news coincides with International Day of Yoga, which is celebrated annually on June 21 as part of the United Nations' promotion of global health, harmony and peace. 

The five-year grant from the NIA has a budget of more than $3.5 million. Gothe plans to recruit adults ages 55 to 79 in the Champaign-Urbana area for this 12-month exercise intervention study.

“We will recruit older adults, have them exercise with us for six months and test for changes in brain health and function before beginning the exercise program, after six months and a follow up at 12 months,” she wrote in an email. “All participants will receive some form of exercise—either yoga, aerobic exercise or stretching-strengthening exercises. Classes will be held three times a week for an hour.”

Participation in this research program is free, and in fact participants will be reimbursed for their time in completing study assessments.

Gothe, who was born in India, has been conducting yoga research for more than a decade. This NIA grant will help Gothe expand upon her previous studies that were pilot projects, she said.

“In our previous cross-sectional studies, we compared yoga practitioners vs. a group of participants who did not do yoga at all," she said. "This study is more rigorous. We are tracking participants over 12 months to observe how different exercises impact their brain health and function.”

Gothe and her team plan to conduct this six-month, three-arm randomized controlled trial among older adults to compare the efficacy of yoga with aerobic exercise and stretching-strengthening exercises on cognitive function, brain structure and function, cardiorespiratory fitness, functional fitness, and inflammatory and molecular markers. The free group exercise classes will be offered for the first six months. Participants will be followed up at 12 months to determine if the exercise related health benefits persist at 12 months after the exercise classes have concluded.

The subjects will be randomly assigned to either a Hatha yoga group, an aerobic exercise group, such as walking on a track or treadmill, or an active stretching and strengthening control group. The groups will meet three times a week for an hour, with tests that include a comprehensive neurocognitive test battery, brain imaging, cardiovascular fitness test, and a blood draw when they start the program, at six months, and then a 12-month follow-up.

Gothe said she hopes to understand the underlying mechanisms behind how yoga can impact neurocognition. The study will also determine similarities and differences between the 3 three different forms of exercise and their impact on brain health. 

“Over the next five years, we hope to answer and provide scientific evidence for the neural underpinnings of yoga. In the future, we will look to adapt yoga to other populations who could benefit from its practice,” she said.

If you are an adult between the ages of 55 and 79 in the Champaign Urbana community, visit this website for more information and to participate in the study.

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