Written by Stannah at 10-07-2017
The desire to age in place has become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly among the ageing Baby Boomer generation. While the ambition of seniors is undeniable, the increased risk of illness, chronic pain and psychological distress that accompanies ageing can create some difficulties in achieving this goal. Fortunately, research has discovered that yoga is a highly beneficial activity for seniors that can help counteract these symptoms.
According to Livestrong, yoga’s combination of physical poses and breathing techniques can help mitigate problems such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, insomnia and even mental health conditions like anxiety. Read on to find out more about it and what benefits you can reap from this ancient practice.
5 Reasons why Yoga is a good exercise for older adults
As opposed to some yoga myths, this type of exercise does more than simply help people burn calories and tone muscles: it’s a full mind-body workout, where you get the chance to combine deep breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques, along with exercises that help build your strength, flexibility, balance and resilience.
Yoga exercises can strengthen and tone your supporting muscles to help prevent future injuries and provide relief from chronic pain, so you can avoid the use of mobility aids such as a walking stick or a cane. Among the many benefits associated with yoga, here are our top 5 reasons why you should consider rolling out the mat and try yoga:
As with any physical activity, the most important thing is to pace yourself and exercise at a rhythm that you’re comfortable with. That said, practising gentle yoga on a regular basis has been shown to ease the symptoms associated with several physical and mental ailments. Let’s take a closer look at some of these conditions and see how yoga can help mitigate its effects on your body:
Stiff and achy joints
Yoga is a gentle, low-impact way to loosen muscles, increase flexibility and improve range of motion in stiff and achy joints, especially for those affected by conditions such as arthritis. Participants in a Harbor-UCLA Medical Center study reported a decreased need for pain medication after only four weeks of consistent yoga.
Poses recommended: Child’s pose, wrist rotation, back-of-the-hand stretch and joint and finger stretches
Sciatic pain can really affect your quality of life, making it extremely uncomfortable to walk, sit or laid down without feeling sharp pain or numbness in your lower back, buttocks and the back of your legs. Yoga can provide some relief since it allows you to strengthen your lower back and fully stretch your muscles. However, if you’re struggling with sciatic pain, you must check with your doctor before you start a yoga regimen.
Poses recommended: Lotus pose, bound angle pose, cobra pose
High blood pressure
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a severe threat that can develop into a more serious cardiovascular disease and increase the risk of a heart attack. Recent studies have concluded that Yoga reduces oxidative stress, one of the major underlying causes of high blood pressure.
Poses recommended: Downward-facing dog, bridge pose, hero pose, legs-up-the-wall pose
Improved mental condition and wellbeing
Yoga is a calming and restorative activity designed to relax both your body and mind. By concentrating on breathing exercises and slow movements, yoga can help reduce ailments like depression. Bel Marra Health reports that a recent study discovered that yoga offers an incredibly effective reprieve from numerous mental health concerns. Instead of masking the symptoms, yoga counterbalances the root of the problem to provide lasting relief.
Additionally, a University of Illinois’ study found that just two months of steady yoga can improve poor thinking and memory function, a symptom that many previously believed to just be an unavoidable part of the ageing process.
Poses recommended: Dolphin plank pose, bound angle pose, bridge pose
Coping with stress
It’s virtually impossible to avoid moments of stress throughout our life. Stress is a natural physical and psychological response to what happens around us, from every day responsibilities to profound life-changing events. Stressful moments can’t be avoided, but how we cope with them, can have a profound impact on our body and mind. For many, practising yoga can have a deeply calming effect. Certain poses combined with meditation and relaxation techniques can help put you in the right frame of mind, so your body begins to release the tension you have accumulated throughout the day.
Stress can also cause sleeping problems, but the physical demands of yoga combined with breathing and relaxation techniques can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep, so you can enjoy a deep, restorative sleep that gives you that refreshed feeling in the morning.
Poses recommended: Child’s pose, boat pose, channel cleaning breath
How to get started with yoga
For beginners who are older and struggle with limited flexibility, deciding to sign up for a yoga class can feel a bit overwhelming: images of young people twisting up like a pretzel with no apparent effort is often the first thing that comes to mind; classes can also have unfamiliar names and poses are frequently referred to by its Sanskrit name (for instance, the Sanskrit name for the Child’s pose is Balasana).
It takes courage to take that first step and try something new. But nowadays, there are a variety of online resources available to help you start a yoga regimen. Here are some useful videos that can help you get started:
- Actively Ageing with Energizing Chair Yoga
- Gentle Yoga Class for Beginners and Seniors
- Third Age Yoga with Andy Gilats – Yoga for Seniors
Furthermore, many local gyms offer classes specifically designed to cater to the needs of older adults. Elderly caregivers can also assist by practising yoga and familiarising themselves with the nuances of the activity. This affords a unique opportunity to connect with your loved ones while simultaneously reaping the benefits of yoga: from gentle stretching movements to breathing exercises designed to soothe and energise, there’s something for everyone of every age to enjoy.
Different yoga styles: which one is right for you?
Once you’ve decided that yoga could be just the thing to help you improve your mobility and general wellbeing, deciding which class to attend can be a little daunting, given the several styles of yoga that you can practise. Depending on your level of mobility and flexibility, there are a few types of yoga that can be more challenging than others, so when looking for yoga classes, always consider any physical limitations and illnesses. Let’s take a look at a few different yoga styles in more detail and see which one would best suit you.
- Hatha Yoga: Hatha yoga is a very broad term that refers to multiple styles of yoga that include physical postures in its practice. Considered the original classical yoga, Hatha Yoga is usually recommended for yoga beginners or people that have lost significant muscle tone and flexibility, since it focuses primarily on improving your physical health through a series of poses.
- Chair Yoga: Chair yoga is a gentle form of yoga where you can practise several yoga poses while sitting on a chair. In this form of gentle yoga, poses are often altered and adjusted, so the use of a chair can be incorporated, but basic body movements such as stretching and bending forward are still encouraged. This type of yoga is often preferred by older adults that feel the need to exercise and improve their mobility.
- Water Yoga: Water yoga, also known as Aqua yoga, is a gentle, low-impact type of yoga that allows you to exercise without high impact to your body. Once you go in the water, your body bears less weight, which allows you to perform a series of movements without putting too much pressure on your bones and muscles. One of the general benefits of this type of yoga is the improvement of your flexibility and range of motion.
- Yin Yoga: Yin yoga is a slow-paced form of yoga where you are encouraged to hold your movements or poses for longer periods of time, usually three to five minutes. The main objective of this type of yoga is to increase your well-being and the quality of your connective tissues, such as ligaments and joints.
- Kripalu Yoga: Known as a gentle form of yoga with a compassionate approach, Kripalu yoga is ideal for older adults and yoga beginners who are looking for a yoga class that focuses on physical healing, meditation and self-discovery in equal measure. In a Kripalu class, you are encouraged to look inward as you find your own rhythm and level of practice, so that over time you can improve your health and sense of well-being.
Keep your independence and quality of Life
While the benefits of yoga are undeniable, it cannot be considered a miracle cure for every ailment of the ageing process and even after deciding to join a yoga class, it is imperative that you take into account any physical limitations and illness, and that you inform your teacher, so that together you can create a yoga practice that can be both beneficial and invigorating.
For many older adults, stairs become a major impediment to the activities they enjoy most and may counteract the positivity gleaned from yoga. Fortunately, Stannah helps older adults to maintain their independence and affords caregivers the comfort of knowing their loved one is safely navigating their home. With Stannah, you can quickly and easily conquer this obstacle and have the energy to do the things you really want to do, like enjoying a visit from your children and grandkids, entertaining dear friends, going for a walk or even practise yoga.
- John Hopkins Arthritis Center, Yoga Poses for Arthritis Patients from Johns Hopkins
- Yoga Journal, Yoga for Sciatica
- Yogapedia, Types of Yoga
- Kalimukti, Yoga For Seniors: A Complete Guide
- CBHS, The Benefits of Yoga for Seniors: Your Guide to Better Health
- Livestrong, Meaghan Massenat, What Are the Benefits of Yoga for Seniors?
- The Chopra Center, 6 Benefits of Yoga for Seniors
- NCBI, Effect of yoga on oxidative stress in elderly with grade-I hypertension: a randomized controlled study
- Bel Marra Health, Yoga may help combat depression, PTSD, and anxiety in seniors