The Benefits of Yoga in Later Life

The Need for and the Benefits of Yoga in Later Life
by Harriet Morgan, registered Yoga Teacher
 
The Effects of Ageing
Physical:
 Reduction in Muscle Mass and Strength
 Reduction in Bone Density
 Reduction in Cardiovascular fitness
 Reduction in Cognitive Function
 
Possible psychological effects:
 Increased incidence of depression  Decreased quality of life
 Sense of loneliness
 Sense of ‘giving up’
 
What is Yoga?
Yoga postures are designed to strengthen and align the body, and to promote blood flow to all the organs and tissues keeping the bodily systems healthy. Yoga also uses breathing techniques and meditation to quiet, clarify, and discipline the mind.
 
The Proven Benefits of Yoga in Later Life Yoga for Cardiovascular Health and Blood Pressure
Research has showed that a medically supervised yoga programme, including meditation, can slow or even reverse the loss of cardiac function.
Yoga can certainly be practised by those suffering from high blood pressure, however the postures will always be modified to ensure that the head is kept higher than the heart and to avoid straining. Restorative poses as well as meditation actually work to reduce blood pressure and counter the effects of the sympathetic nervous system.
 
Yoga for Osteoporosis and Osteopenia
Many yoga poses actually build up bone density: these poses put specific stress on critical areas such as hips and lower back. When the muscles pull against the bone they stimulate bone cell growth and thus strengthen the bone.
Yoga also greatly improves arthritic joints by circulating synovial fluid and stimulating the connective tissues around the joints, helping to mobilise these stagnant tissues.
 
Yoga for falls prevention
Regular Yoga practice promotes balance and coordination, helping to prevent falls and the fractures that commonly occur with falls in those suffering osteoporosis or osteopenia.
A paper released from the University of New Brunswick in Canada (2008) has shown that Yoga decreases the risk of falls both directly through improved strength, balance and flexibility; but also indirectly, through a decreased need for medications that contribute to falls.
 
Yoga for Osteoarthritis
It is estimated that 80% of people over the age of 50 have osteoarthritis. Prevention is aimed at reducing stress on joints and improving strength, with regular exercise to reduce fatigue, increase flexibility, build strong bones and muscles. Yoga has been proven to be beneficial because of the range of motion, good alignment and strengthening involved.
 
Yoga for Pain Relief
Many people anecdotally report reduced or no pain after yoga. As we age we may start to experience pain as a symptom of arthritis, cancer, injuries, surgery, and muscle tightness. Often we tense up and breathe more shallowly when we are in pain. The time spent in yoga sessions slowing down and deepening the breath and releasing muscle tension can provide enormous relief for someone in chronic pain.
A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (Oct 2011) showed that yoga significantly improved lower back pain compared to a self-care group.
 
Yoga for Depression
Many factors can contribute to a state of depression in the elderly. Depression is known to predispose sufferers to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and accelerates aging of the body and the brain.
Yoga offers an alternative to the problems of conventional medical treatment for depression. It does not have detrimental side effects; in fact it has ‘side benefits’ for the body and mind. Yoga addresses the root causes of depression. It is a holistic practice that focuses on stilling the mind and bringing about a
sense of peace and contentment.
A recent review of 16 studies held by Duke University Medical Centre in the USA found that yoga “positively influences chemical messengers in the brain, inflammation in the body and other biological factors in much the same way as antidepressants and psychotherapy.”
 
Yoga for Dementia
While physical exercises may not have any particular effect on cognitive changes, they can affect other aspects of one’s life such as mood, agitation, patience and physical strength which can affect how sufferers respond to dementia symptoms. Through practising yoga and learning the postures, a dementia sufferer will improve their balance, strength, energy and mental awareness.
In terms of prevention of dementia, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol have been proven to delay the onset of dementia and slow its progression. Yoga’s stress management tools can help keep blood pressure low and prevent high cholesterol.
 
Yoga for victims of stroke or paralysis
During the relaxation part of a yoga class, Yoga Nidra, participants perform a ‘body scan’ giving them the opportunity to take their mind’s eye to every part of the body, including
parts which sufferers of strokes or spinal injuries may not have focused on for many months or even years. This has profound psychological benefits. Yoga can also help increase a sense of confidence in their bodies’ abilities, as well as instilling a sense of calmness and acceptance of the physical impairments that they are now faced with.
A 2010 study published in Physical Therapy (US medical journal) found that yoga could help people with chronic post-stroke hemiparesis by improving their Berg Balance scale and Timed Movement Battery.
 
Summary
 
Physical Benefits of Yoga:
 Pain decreases
 Posture improves
 Weight normalizes
 Muscular flexibility increases
 Energy levels increase
 Muscular strength increases
 Endurance increases
 Respiratory rate decreases
 Gastrointestinal function normalizes
 Respiratory Efficiency increases
 Breath-holding time increases
 Joint range of motion increase
 Eye-hand coordination improves
 Grip strength increases
 Dexterity skills improve
 Reaction time improves
 Balance improves
 
How Yoga can affect quality of life as we age:
 Attention and concentration improve
 Mood improves
 Social skills increase
 Cognitive function improves
 Memory improves
 Well-being increases
 Self-acceptance increases
 Decrease in depression
 Decrease in hostility
 Decrease in anxiety
 Decrease in loneliness
 
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Sources/References:Royal Rehabilitation Centre NSW
– Disability Services Australia
– Arthritis Australia (www.arthritisaustralia.com.au)
– ‘Yoga for Depression’ by Amy Weintraub (2004)
– Dr Loren Fishman, Medical Director at Manhattan Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
– http://sciatica.org/yoga/12poses.html – article on yoga for osteoporosis
 
written by Harriet Morgan
Aged Care Yoga
0416 977 272 – harriet.s.morgan@gmail.com
© Harriet Morgan – Aged Care Yoga 2013