Benefits of yoga for seniors

Staying active and mobile in your senior years can provide many health benefits, but the risk of strain or joint pain is real for many elderly people who are seeking to stay active. Yoga is a wonderful option to consider if you’re a senior who wants to stay active and flexible without muscle strain. As with any physical activity, you should proceed gradually when just starting out and get individual guidance if you think you might need it.1

Why practise yoga in your senior years?

There is considerable research that suggests yoga, when practised correctly, can have numerous benefits for seniors. These include improved sleep habits, reducing the impact of chronic conditions, and keeping the mind sharp and the joints flexible.1

Better sleep habits

Research has demonstrated that yoga – incorporating physical postures, breathing, and relaxation techniques – can have a positive impact on the time it takes for seniors to fall asleep and the amount of time slept.2

The study found that seniors practising yoga reduced their fall-asleep time by an average of ten minutes and increased their sleeping duration by an average of one hour.2

Improve strength and protect joints

Yoga can help improve your muscle strength even if you have arthritis. One study found that both rheumatoid arthritis patients and non-arthritic adults and children experienced hand grip strength after practising yoga.3

Yoga protects the joints and could reduce the risk of conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.4

Control type 2 diabetes

One study found that practising yoga could help patients with type 2 diabetes. After practising yoga for 40 days, the research group of 30 to 60-year-olds with type 2 diabetes experienced a significant decline in their blood sugar levels.5

Reduce hypertension

Various studies have found that yoga can have a positive impact on hypertension. One study found that patients with mild to moderate high blood pressure experienced a decline in blood pressure after just three months of daily yoga practice. There was a corresponding drop in cholesterol, blood sugar, and triglycerides.6

Lose weight

Practising yoga has also been linked to less weight gain in older adults.7 Those who practise yoga weekly for at least four years have on average 1.4 kilograms less weight gain than the average adult aged between 53 and 57.7

Improve mood and reduce anxiety

Those that enjoy yoga practice tend to report a decline in their anxiety levels and an improvement in their mood.1 Research suggests that yoga might have a bigger impact on mood enhancement and anxiety reduction than other forms of exercise.4 The reason might be because yoga practice leads to high levels of the brain chemical GABA, which has a calming effect on the body.4

Help with chronic pain

Yoga can help with managing chronic pain.8 One study found that those with chronic pain were able to either improve or maintain their symptoms after just four weeks of yoga practice; with no patient reporting deterioration, whilst every patient was able to significantly reduce their pain medication dosage.

Relieve breathing and lung issues

Yoga practice can assist with alleviating breathing and lung issues.9 One study found that yoga practice can improve lung capacity by as much as 10 per cent just after 40 days.9 Bronchial asthmatics have also been found to benefit from just 30 minutes of yoga breathing techniques.9

Bone strength

Studies show that yoga helps seniors – who are at most risk of conditions such as osteoporosis – by slowing bone thinning and reducing the risk of osteoporosis.4 Research has demonstrated that seniors might even gain bone rather than lose bone density with yoga practice.10

Sharpen the mind

Yoga practitioners and experts suggest that daily or weekly yoga practice can reduce stress and keep you energised, which can have a beneficial impact on the mind.4 A number of studies have been concluded in the past two decades regarding yoga and its effect on stress and anxiety, with positive results.11

A German study published in 2005 showed that women who completed two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months reported mental health improvements across the board. Specifically, depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%.11

Flexibility without strain

Yoga is perfect for seniors who want to stay active without the strain associated with high-intensity cardio exercises and strength training. As a low-impact exercise, it helps seniors build joint flexibility and muscle strength with a lower risk of injury. Gentle stretches assist with greater flexibility and maintaining a good range of motion.10

Tips for senior yoga

It’s best for seniors to start gradually with yoga, especially if they have pre-existing joint conditions or other pain issues.10 Some yoga practices do require extremely strenuous stretching and movements that might not be appropriate if you have certain joint conditions or if you are just starting out.12 In some cases, yoga practice could make your pain worse.13 Even those without musculoskeletal soreness or pain may develop it when they start practising yoga.13

Find yoga poses and practices that are suitable for your age group or condition, or work with a certified instructor on a one-on-one basis to start with rather than joining a group class.4 12 If you do join a class, watch the class to make sure it’s right for your physical condition, and stop if you do feel pain.13

When done right, yoga can have numerous benefits for seniors.13 Always take it slow at the start if you have a pre-existing condition. For best results, work with an instructor one-on-one before joining a class.13