Yoga has long been recommended to older adults as a way to strengthen muscles and improve balance. But the range of health benefits yoga offers the 60-plus population had never been studied comprehensively – until now. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh recently published a study analyzing the results of 22 randomized clinical trials, showing that practicing yoga can significantly improve many key markers of both physical and mental health.
The review, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, measured the effects of yoga compared to other activities (such as walking) and inactive health controls (such as reading educational brochures). In this way, researchers were able to isolate the specific advantages of practicing yoga over other existing recommendations for healthy living in adults age 60 and over.
Yoga intervention improved multiple physical functions and feelings of overall wellbeing compared to both active and inactive controls, researchers found. Those who practiced yoga reported physical benefits including improved balance, lower body flexibility and lower limb strength, and quality of life benefits including better perceived mental health, decreased depression, improved sleep quality and an overall sense of vitality.
Physical activity levels tend to decrease with age, and the worldwide number of older adults meeting the World Health Organization’s physical activity recommendations – including aerobic exercise, muscle strengthening and balance exercises – is low, according to the study. This review offers strong support for recommending yoga as a way for this population to stay fit.
“Yoga is a multimodal activity that improves muscle strength, balance and flexibility in older adults, and physical activity policy should continue to promote yoga as an activity that enhances physical and mental wellbeing in this population,” the study’s authors conclude.
Though outside the scope of this study, we also want to note that yoga offers many additional important benefits for those with spondyloarthritis. These benefits include core strengthening – which reduces pressure and stress put on the back, increased flexibility, reduced pain and stiffness, and help maintaining and improving one’s range of motion – which is critical for those with spondyloarthritis.
Watch SAA’s Richard Howard – Chief Mission Advancement Officer, Co-Leader of our Los Angeles Spondylitis Support Group, and yogi of over 20 years – as he talks yoga and ankylosing spondylitis with Imagine Dragons lead singer, Dan Reynolds in “This AS Life Live!”
Sivaramakrishnan, Divya; Fitzsimons, Claire; Kelly, Paul; Ludwig, Kim; Mutrie, Nanette; Saunders, David H.; Baker, Graham. “The effects of yoga compared to active and inactive controls on physical function and health related quality of life in older adults – systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.” April 2019