I am not going to lie, Yoga is not something that I particularly like to do. For me, I thrive on the crazy heart-pumping workouts. However, as I age, I am realizing the importance of making Yoga a part of my workouts.
There is certainly evidence that yoga can help fight all manner of challenges that ageing bodies face: loss of bone density, stiffness, hardening of the arteries, hormonal fluctuations, mild depression ...
One study for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine put 21 over-60s into a hatha yoga class, once a week for 12 weeks. To qualify, they had to be suffering from 'dowager's hump' (hyperkyphosis), the dreaded hunched back which interferes with normal movement. The study, published in The American Journal of Public Health, reported impressive benefits: the curvatures themselves were reduced by 6%; walking speeds went up 8%, and 'reaches' were improved by 18%. As a bonus, many volunteers reported their balance was better – which is worth bearing in mind by anyone who dreads toppling like a ninepin in later life.
And if you were to topple, yoga might just save you from snapping a femur. A small pilot study on bone loss in 2009 (the results of which were published in Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation) enrolled 18 people with osteoporosis or osteopenia. After a baseline bone density test at the start, seven people were assigned to the control group, and 11 learned a 10-posture yoga sequence that included basic moves like downward- and upward-facing dog, bridge pose and triangle. Poses were maintained for at least 20-30 seconds, and the whole routine took 10 minutes or so.
After two years, a further bone density test took place: though almost every member of the control group either lost bone or maintained the status quo, around 85% of the yoga group gained it in the spine and hip. Dr Loren Fishman, who carried out the study, was shocked at the results. "By putting tremendous pressure on the bones, without harming the joints, yoga may be the answer to osteoporosis," she said.
On a side note, the pressure on the bones makes absolute sense to me. My son was born with a congenital leg disorder which resulted in his one femur bone growing at half the rate of his other. To correct this, he had several limb-lengthening surgeries (breaking his femur bone and regenerating new bone). For all of his surgeries, walking and weight-bearing exercises were an integral part of his healing to strengthen his new bone.
To be clear, Yoga is not all we need for overall fitness. One still needs to give the heart a good aerobic workout - which more advanced, fast-pace yoga can provide. Beginners, should be wary of fast-paced classes. Beginners should consider combining walking with yoga.
If you are interested in starting Yoga and don't know where to begin, give these videos a try. Yoga expert, Christie Hadjuk, Owner of 925 Wellness, created this video series for my Emerge Fitness Streaming Platform. The beauty of the video series? You can do them in the privacy of your own home plus download and keep the series for continued practice of Yoga!