Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic Syndrome and Cognitive Decline

Much is said about metabolic syndrome these days, but what does that mean? And should I care? The short answer is yes, a third of adults meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome, likely you or someone you love.  That criteria includes a high waist to hip ratio (apple shape), high triglycerides and LDL cholesterol yet low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood glucose levels. Those terms probably look familiar because we hear them frequently in association with heart disease and type 2 diabetes, which metabolic syndrome may encompass or lead to. As if all of those were not concerning enough, cognitive decline occurs at faster and higher rates in individuals with metabolic syndrome than healthy individuals. 

Coming as no surprise, yoga is an effective tool in your belt to manage your risk of metabolic syndrome and slow its progression. Yoga has been shown across many studies to affect the measures used to diagnose metabolic syndrome that show up in your bloodwork and on the scale, proving to reduce BMI and move biomarkers closer to or within healthy range. Perhaps more surprising is the effect yoga has on your brain, improving or preserving cognition.


Yoga interventions have shown to reduce latency in comprehension, increase attention span and improve concentration. Individuals with type 2 diabetes subjected to the Mental Arithmetic Stress Test and the Mini Mental State Exam performed better after doing yoga consistently. Researchers using the ACE-R (a common cognition test covering five domains) determined that patients with type 2 diabetes who practiced yoga for six months had results in the “normal cognition” range while the control group continued to suffer from “mild cognitive impairment.” 

Some of the yogic interventions cited to support cognition and overall health included asana common in group classes like sun salutations, cobra pose, locust, triangle, twists and the much loved savasana. Breathwork or pranayama was also used across studies including alternate nostril breathing, bhramari (bee breath) and ujjayi breath. So next time you find yourself taking a yoga class, know that it is helping your brain as much as your body. Better yet, seek out more yoga classes or yoga breaks in your day to support your health.

We know how to prevent and slow the progression of metabolic syndrome and you’ve heard it all before; eat a balanced diet, get routine exercise, manage your stress and stop smoking. Yet, rates of metabolic syndrome worldwide are increasing. Applying these principles in the real world can feel overwhelming or even impossible, but the stakes are high. If you are struggling to manage the lifestyle factors to reduce your risk, yoga therapists, fitness and nutrition coaches are an invaluable tool to help find the right mix for you and hold you accountable.