When I think about the health of all the people in my life over the age of 50, there is one that stands out the most - my dad’s wife. She recently turned 60, but has the body and vitality of someone in their 30s. Honestly, sometimes she puts me to shame and I am actually in my 30s.
Her secret? A daily yoga practice no matter what else might be going on in her life. I am sure she would agree, this practice is one of the main contributors to her good health and well-being at her age.
How does yoga help you age better?
You probably already know, aging brings with it physical changes to the body. Movement becomes harder, you lose strength, speed, endurance, and stability. Health problems might emerge that make physical activity even more difficult. This causes a lot of people to just give up on physical activity, but this only makes the problems worse. Yoga can help maintain mobility, strength, endurance, and stability in a gentle way that allows almost anyone to participate.
As you age, bone density starts to decrease. This may lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures. Osteoporosis is a particular concern for women, 80% of people with this condition are women, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
Weight-bearing exercises like lunge poses in yoga can help maintain bone strength. These types of activities can also improve balance, body awareness, and increase muscle mass. Focusing on weight-bearing exercises in yoga may help reduce the risk of fractures.
As we age, joints start to degenerate due to degrading collagen and overuse. This can lead to arthritis and pain in the knees, hips, elbows, and back. Pain from joint inflammation is one of the many reasons why people stop moving.
A regular yoga practice can maintain joint flexibility and fluidity. It also helps reduce inflammation, which can help you manage pain. The back bends and core exercises help keep the back flexible and strong to alleviate pain in this area. If you do suffer from joint pain be sure to listen to your body while doing yoga. Look for ways to modify exercises so you don’t hurt yourself.
Although yoga is not a cure for any type of chronic disease, the benefits it provides can help you manage these conditions. Yoga has been found to help lower blood pressure, control asthma, and help lower inflammation.1,2,3 It also helps put your illness into perspective, by boosting mental well-being and stress management.
In speaking to my stepmother, one of the biggest benefits of yoga for her is the impact it has on her mental health. Like anyone, life has thrown her some unexpected curveballs. Yoga helps her mentally and spiritually handle these challenges with ease and grace.
Yoga can help with stress management, insomnia, and keep the brain healthy. Meditation, one part of yoga practice, has consistently been shown to improve mental well-being and protect the aging brain. Makes structural changes to the brain that help with emotional and sensory processing.4
Ready to get started? Look for a beginner class, sometimes called “yin” yoga or yoga for relaxation. It can help ease you into yoga practice without anything too aggressive. The important thing for aging is to make yoga a regular practice.
Yours in health-
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
IVL’s Community Registered Dietitian
- Yang ZY, et al. Yoga for asthma. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2016.4: CD010346
- Wolff M et al. Impact of yoga on blood pressure and quality of life in patients with hypertension – a controlled trial in primary care, matched for systolic blood pressure. BMC Cardiovascular Disorders. 2013;13(11)
- Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Christian L, Preston H, et al. Stress, inflammation, and yoga practice. Psychosom Med. 2010;72(2):113–121. doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181cb9377
- Lazar SW, Kerr CE, Wasserman RH, et al. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport. 2005;16(17):1893–1897.