Many older adults are led to believe that yoga is only for the young and bendy. But, we know yoga provides health benefits for people of all ages and fitness levels. A new review of existing research shows that yoga can be especially helpful for people over 60, improving both mobility and balance.
It may not be easy to start a yoga practice later in life, but seniors are increasingly seeking out yoga classes as they hear more and more about yoga’s benefits.
Here are some ways that yoga can be beneficial to seniors and older adults.
Improves Muscle Tone
As we age, muscle mass naturally begins to deteriorate. Engaging in even a gentle hatha yoga practice can have a beneficial effect on strengthening and toning muscles. Plank pose, Downward-Facing Dog, Warrior I, and Warrior II are good for building strength, especially for those new to yoga.
Over time and with decreased activity, muscles lose some of their elasticity, making even common everyday tasks like tying your shoes more difficult. For those with decreased flexibility, try Seated Forward Bend with or without a yoga strap to stretch the shoulders and hamstrings; Cat and Cow poses to bring flexibility to the spine; low lunge to open the hip flexors; and side-bending Mountain pose to elongate the muscles along the torso.
Eases Aches and Pains
Studies show that yoga is effective at treating some forms of chronic pain, including pain and stiffness from arthritis and repetitive stress syndrome. Yoga is gentler than some weight-bearing exercises that can put excess stress on the joints, and it helps to reduce overall tension. Cobra and Child’s pose both help ease back pain. Bound Angle pose helps with hip pain. Standing Forward Fold increases flexibility in the spine and hamstrings, targeting achy low backs.
Impaired balance is common among adults over age 65, and in some cases problems with balance can lead to dangerous falls that cause serious injuries. Practicing balancing postures in yoga can help strengthen the muscles that stabilize the body while walking and standing. Depending on the individual, yoga postures like Tree, Side Plank, and Half Moon help build better balance. Holding onto a wall or a prop is a good place to begin for those who find balancing on one foot a challenge.
Builds Stronger Bones
A decrease of bone density is one of the biggest concerns among aging adults. Research has found that yoga improves bone density in people who have suffered from bone loss, including those with osteoporosis or osteopenia. Yoga uses opposing muscle groups and gravity to put pressure on the bones, which increases the production of bone-growing cells. Triangle pose, Warrior I and II, and Plank pose all emphasize opposing muscles.
Changes in the brain that happen as we age means that some older adults have a harder time with concentration and multitasking. Yoga techniques such as pranayama and meditation stimulate the brain and nervous system to improve concentration and memory. In pranayama, focusing on the breath allows the mind to be still and the nervous system to enter a relaxed state. Meditation also calms the mind, and when practiced regularly over time, meditation helps keep distracting thoughts at bay.
Some older adults experience feelings of loneliness and isolation, and attending a yoga class can be a great way to build friendships and a sense of community. What’s more, yoga is a proven mood-booster. Heart-opening poses and gentle back bends like Cobra, Bow pose, and Bridge pose are shown to increase positive moods in individuals who suffer from depression. Practicing asana, pranayama, and meditation contribute to an overall improved mood, more energy, and decreased anxiety.
A number of yoga studios, senior living facilities, hospitals, and health care centers offer yoga classes that cater specifically to older adults and those with impaired mobility. It’s always a good idea for people with medical conditions to consult with a doctor before beginning any kind of yoga practice or physical exercise.
Yoga has the power to heal and transform us at any age. What are the health benefits you see yoga providing for the seniors in your life?