by Carol Krucoff, E-RYT 500
Inviting elderly people to try yoga can be challenging, since many harbor the common misconception that you must be young and fit—or at least able to get down and up from the floor—to practice. That’s why I always tell prospective students: If you can breathe, you can do yoga.
Now, a new study suggests that for older adults—even frail elders in their 80s and 90s—yoga offers substantial health benefits and may be the best form of physical activity. Writing in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, geriatrician Neela K. Patel, MD, MPH, CMD, and colleagues at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, performed a meta-analysis of 18 randomized control trials of yoga for people over age 60 and compared the results with those from other exercise programs for seniors (see here). Her conclusion:
“Yoga may be superior to conventional physical-activity interventions in elderly people.”
I recently had a lovely interview with Dr. Patel; it was very exciting to see research that supports what we teach! According to Dr. Patel, many health problems facing seniors can be directly influenced by yoga:
“Yoga not only improves health-related quality of life, but also enhances walking and balance, muscle strength, cardiovascular health, blood pressure, sleep and functioning of other systems. Yoga may also have psychosocial benefits through prevention and control of common health and emotional problems linked with aging.”
All four aspects of exercise, as outlined by the National Institute on Aging—strength, endurance, flexibility and balance—can be improved through an appropriate yoga practice, Dr. Patel told me, adding that the ability to individualize the practice and its social nature may also benefit seniors. But the most important aspect, she says, may be yoga’s impact on enhancing seniors’ ability to perform activities of daily living and maintain independence.
“Having the leg strength to get up and down from the bed to go to the toilet, and the arm strength to open a door, can make a tremendous difference in an older adult’s life,” she says. “And yoga goes beyond physical health, to help relieve anxiety and calm the mind, which is also critical.”
Dr. Patel has observed the impact of yoga practice on older adults first hand, as her husband, Sreedhara Akkihebbalu, teaches classes to elderly residents of an independent living community and a nursing home—ages 75 to 102. Perceived benefits among those students in independent living include improved gait and balance, deceased pain, decreased need for medications, improved sleep, less anxiety and depression and increased mobility. She notes:
“For the oldest old, the breathing practice can be particularly beneficial. Yoga shows great potential for improving quality of life in even the frailest of older adults."
pranamaya.com. She is author of several books including Healing Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain. Visit her websites: yoga4seniors.com and healingmoves.com.