Professor receives $3 million grant to study yoga health benefits


Mark Capapas

A buddha statue stands on a table of Amara and Arts Yoga Studio located in Urbana on Jan. 22.

By Aliza Majid, Staff Writer

Neha Gothe, director of the Exercise Psychology Lab and a professor in the college of AHS, received a $3 million grant from the National Institute of Aging. The grant will allow her to explore the health benefits of yoga.

“These three groups of people will exercise with us for six months on campus then before and after the program we’re going to test a variety of outcomes which include brain health. Participants will be asked to complete a brain MRI, which is at the Beckman Institute on campus to see how their brain changes,” Gothe said.

The three primary forms of exercise will be yoga, aerobic exercise and strength training. Adults between the ages of 55-79 are encouraged to participate and if interested should sign up for the study.

“The sessions are going to be completely free. The funding that we are getting to run this project is coming from the federal government,” Gothe said. “There is no cost involved for people who volunteered or participated in the project. In fact, we give them compensation for their time, which is around $20 an hour.”

According to Gothe, the goal of this project is to examine the unique effects these exercises have on the brain and if there is a particular form of exercise that impacts mental health. Yoga is the main highlight for this study as it isn’t considered a prominent form of exercise but has various health effects the team wishes to explore.

“Some people can’t participate in the normal aerobics activities, but they could participate at some level in yoga. Yoga is something that you can develop skills and so it can be very adaptive to the individual,” said Brad Sutton, the director of the Biomedical Imaging Center at Beckman Institute. “It has a large element of breathing and controls your breathing. And it also has a large element of being aware, being mindful of your body and its position and how you’re moving in an active environment.” 

Yoga is a form of exercise that focuses on breathing and awareness which can affect your brain differently compared to aerobics or strength based exercises. Since it may be a little difficult for older adults to take part in exercising regimens, yoga may be an effective alternative that can improve brain function.

“We wanted those groups to be comparison groups and the new group we are testing is yoga because we don’t know much about how yoga works, how and why it makes us feel better,” Gothe said. “So having the three groups will help us answer many of these questions in terms of comparisons with each other, as well as understanding more about yoga as a therapy or as a form of mind body practice.”

The brain imaging that will be used in the study will allow the team to examine what parts of the brain is changing and how this exercise intervention can affect its function over time. 

“We need to measure the exercise and whether we can see how your brain is changing to this intervention and the magnetic resonance imaging is a wonderful technology for this because we can watch all those components,” Sutton said. “We can see how what we’re doing to the person through this yoga intervention, how it’s affecting those networks, which networks it’s affecting and then try to see if that will let us understand what type of person will benefit best from this strategy.”

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