Our lifestyle habits influence the rate at which our bodies and minds age. Yoga, it seems, is just one habit that could help us all live happier, healthier lives well into our senior years.

A regular exercise routine can offer significant anti-aging benefits, but yoga in particular may be especially helpful. Unlike other forms of exercise, yoga is well known for its meditative and stress-relieving effects, which may in fact just make it the perfect anti-aging activity.

Don’t quite believe it? Check out the following scientific pieces of proof!

Slowed Cellular Aging and Lower Inflammation

It only takes a few short weeks of yoga practice to make a difference in your body at the cellular level. In a study that involved leading participants through a 12-week yoga program (consisting of 90-minute sessions, five days a week), researchers found that biomarkers associated with cellular aging and stress-related inflammation decreased upon completion of the program compared to measurements that were taken before the program started. And in a related study, participants who went on a three-month yoga retreat showed significantly higher levels of protective anti-inflammatory markers with reductions in pro-inflammatory markers.

Improved Memory

Yoga’s meditative effect can promote changes in the brain that keep its structure and function healthy. In one particularly interesting study, researchers looked at the relationship between memory test performance and resting-state functional connectivity both before and after yoga intervention. Study participants who did yoga for a period of 12 weeks showed significant improvements in depression and visuospatial memory compared to participants who did memory enhancement training (MET), suggesting that yoga may be just as effective as MET for improving functional connectivity as it relates to verbal memory.

Possible Disease Prevention

To ward off age-related disease, do yoga. Researchers conducted a study to examine the protective ends of chromosomes called telomeres, which affect aging. Previously, researchers believed telomeres could only get shorter with age—not longer. Their findings, however, proved them wrong. A group of male study participants with early age prostate cancer were asked to practice yoga and make other healthy lifestyle changes over a period of five years while another group made no changes to their lifestyle. The researchers found that by the end of the five-year period, the men who did yoga showed that their telomeres grew longer by about 10 percent on average.

Better Sleep at Night

Sleep deprivation is linked to aging, impacting skin function and the ability to respond to environmental stressors. Yoga, however, has been shown to improve sleep. In a study on the relationship between yoga and sleep, sleep quality scores were gathered from questionnaires filled out by 65 elderly participants. When the researchers compared sleep quality scores and quality of life scores from participants who did yoga to those of a control group, they found that the yoga group showed better scores for both measurements.

The above findings prove that when it comes to getting older, age really is just a number. The body and mind don’t necessarily have to reflect a person’s age, and making yoga a lifelong habit is just one very effective way to help slow down (or even perhaps reverse) the physiological process of aging.

Image via Cohen Van der Velde