The Benefits of Yoga for Older Adults
Yoga cultivates a mind-body connection, combining stretching and strengthening postures with deep breathing and relaxation. Despite its roots in Eastern philosophy, yoga as practiced in the West is generally focused on physical fitness. It still has a spiritual aspect, but it is not overtly religious. People of all faiths and belief systems can benefit from participating in yoga.
Because the poses (called asanas) can easily be modified or adapted to suit an individual’s needs, yoga is safe for seniors of all fitness or ability levels. In fact, it can be an excellent way to keep your body strong and healthy without the joint stress that comes from other activities like weightlifting or jogging. And it’s never too late to begin: You can start yoga at any age. (Just be sure to clear it with your doctor before you get going.)
Here are some of the benefits of yoga for seniors:
- Better balance: Many yoga poses for seniors focus on strengthening the abdominal muscles and improving your core stability. That can help you become steadier on your feet and reduce your risk of falls.
- Improved flexibility: Yoga movements can be fantastic stretching exercises for seniors. Holding a pose for several breaths encourages your muscles and connective tissues to relax and loosen, which helps to increase your range of motion. In fact, research in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy has shown that regularly engaging in yoga can dramatically boost the overall flexibility of older adults.
- Enhanced breathing: The breathing control practices of yoga (known as pranayama) can expand your lung capacity and improve your pulmonary health. A study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics found that elderly women who practiced yoga three times a week for 12 weeks saw a significant improvement in their respiratory function.
- Stronger bones: If you’re worried about brittle bones and osteoporosis, try yoga. For older women and men, a consistent yoga routine that includes weight-bearing postures can help bolster bone strength. Some promising research has suggested that doing yoga can actually improve bone density in postmenopausal women.
- Reduced anxiety and stress: Through meditation and mindful breathing, yoga encourages you to focus on the present and find a sense of peace. Research has demonstrated that that can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. In a National Institutes of Health survey, more than 85 percent of people who engaged in yoga said they experienced reduced stress as a result.
- Better sleep: Yoga can help alleviate sleep disturbances, which are common complaints among seniors. In a study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, adults over age 60 who struggled with insomnia participated in yoga classes twice a week and underwent daily sessions at home. After three months, the group reported significant improvements in both the duration and overall quality of their sleep.
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