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How to Practice Yoga for Healthy Aging

How to Practice Yoga for Healthy Aging

Reading Time: 4 minutes 45 seconds

BY: ISSA

DATE: 2024-02-29


Yoga has many well-known benefits, from building strength and flexibility to creating peace of mind and managing stress. Did you know that a regular yoga practice can also support healthy aging? 

Yoga is beneficial for people of all ages, but as we get older it provides some specific benefits: improving balance, reducing the risk of falls, reducing age-related muscle loss, and more. 

If you’ve thought about trying yoga but worried you’re not young enough or flexible enough, rest assured, it is truly for everyone. With modifications, anyone can benefit from yoga, especially as you age. 

Am I Too Old to Start a Yoga Practice? 

There is no such thing as the wrong age for trying yoga. Yoga is an adaptable practice that almost anyone can do. Some instructors and studios even offer chair yoga for people with more limited mobility. 

Yoga can be safe and beneficial for older adults. It’s important to work with a trained, certified instructor. If you have health conditions, mobility limitations, or other concerns, it’s best to work with someone who has experience working with seniors. 

As long as you start at the beginning and have poses modified to match your abilities and limitations, you can benefit from and enjoy yoga safely at any age. 

What Are the Benefits of Yoga for Healthy Aging?

Yoga is compatible with and promotes healthy aging. At the most basic level, yoga is exercise. Any type or amount of exercise is good for people of all ages but is particularly important in older adults who are too often inactive. 

Slow or Reverse Age-Related Muscle Loss

Losing muscle mass is typical with aging, but it is not inevitable. Muscle weakness is dangerous because it can lead to injuries. Staying strong as you get older will help you be more active and minimize the risk of falls and other injuries that could sideline you. 

Yoga builds strength by using the weight of your own body. It is a gentle way to build muscle and reverse the natural process of muscle loss that accompanies aging. 

Here are some useful tips for building muscle after 50.

Build Balance to Prevent Falls

Falls are increasingly common as people age. (1) Falls are more serious at an older age, too. A fall can lead to serious injuries, including fractures, that cause long-term or permanent disability. Anything you can do to prevent falls as you get older will help you stay healthier. 

Older adults are at risk for falls for many reasons. Balance is a primary underlying issue that yoga can address. Balance declines as you age, beginning as early as age 50. (2) Both strength and flexibility are necessary for balance. Yoga can help you maintain or build strength and become more flexible. 

Strengthening the core is vital to improving balance. Here’s how to use yoga to build a strong core

Boost Cognitive Functioning

Traditionally, yoga is both a physical and a mental or spiritual practice. Western yoga often focuses only on the exercise aspect, but there are important mental health and neurological benefits. Regular yoga practice has been associated with actual structural changes in parts of the brain related to age-related cognitive decline. (3)

A small study of yoga as an intervention for older adults found that it can improve cognitive functioning. Participants who did hatha yoga for two years performed better on cognitive tests than control groups. (4)

Yoga for Mood and Stress

People of any age are vulnerable to mental health issues and stress. In older adults, loneliness can contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Yoga is a mood booster and has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also mitigates stress in a healthy way. Regular yoga can make you more mentally and emotionally resilient as you age and face stressors. 

Can Yoga Slow the Aging Process? 

There is no miracle cure for aging, but studies do indicate that yoga might slow the natural aging process. Research has found that 12 weeks of a comprehensive yoga practice reduces biomarkers associated with aging in cells. (5)

Researchers see reductions in inflammatory compounds, substances in the body implicated in premature aging. While these changes will not stop anyone from getting older, they indicate that yoga counteracts some of the natural processes. 

How to Start Practicing Yoga Safely

  • Find a beginner class. Many yoga classes are made up of people with various experience levels. The instructor will try to accommodate newbies, but it can be tough. You’ll get the most out of a beginner class, or even better, a beginner series of classes designed to introduce you to yoga and teach you the basics. 

  • Go with a friend. If you’re nervous about trying something new, bring a friend of a similar age. Whether they have done yoga before or not, you’ll have an ally and friend to share the experience. 

  • Look for senior classes. If you are an older adult, especially if you have some physical limitations, it’s best to start with classes that cater to you. Even better is if you can find a class with an instructor who has special training in working with senior participants. 

  • Explain your limitations. Talk to your instructor before beginning a class so they know what your limitations are. There might be safety concerns. For instance, certain poses that round the spine excessively could cause issues if you have osteoporosis. If you have arthritis, you might need to modify some of the more intense poses that require you to put weight on your wrists and hands. A good instructor will be able to modify your poses to make them safer and still effective. 

  • Go at your own pace. Whatever kind of class you start with or the instructor’s experience, set your own pace. You know your limitations and your body, so don’t push it if it doesn’t feel safe. Progress as slowly as feels right. 

Embracing Yoga at Every Stage of Life

There is no wrong time to start practicing yoga. The benefits are for everyone and at every age. It is a remarkably adaptable activity. With the right instructor, yoga can be modified for any individual’s limitations and abilities. 

This flexibility also makes yoga a lifelong practice. It can change with you as you age. You can adapt it if you get injured or pregnant. You can use it more or less as needed. In terms of aging, a regular yoga practice is a great way to get healthier and stay heathier as you get older. 

Yoga can continue to support your physical health, mental and emotional well-being, cognitive abilities, and even your spiritual growth as you age and progress through different stages of life. The best time to start practicing yoga is right now. 

Our Yoga Alliance approved 200-Hour yoga teacher training course is a perfect starting point for a career teaching yoga. It’s also a great program for deepening your own personal practice, even if you never become an instructor. 

References

  1. Falls and fractures in Older Adults: Causes and prevention. (n.d.). National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/falls-and-falls-prevention/falls-and-fractures-older-adults-causes-and-prevention

  2. Balance begins to decline as early as age 50. (2022, May 23). UCLA Health. https://www.uclahealth.org/news/balance-begins-to-decline-as-early-as-age-50

  3. Madhivanan, P., Krupp, K., Waechter, R., & Shidhaye, R. (2021). Yoga for healthy aging: science or hype? Advances in Geriatric Medicine and Research. https://doi.org/10.20900/agmr20210016

  4. Baklouti, S., Steinacker, J. M., Baklouti, H., Souissi, N., & Jarraya, M. (2022). Effects of Hatha yoga on cognitive functions in the elderly: a cross-sectional study. Libyan Journal of Medicine, 17(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/19932820.2022.2080799

Tolahunase, M., Sagar, R., & Dada, R. (2017). Impact of yoga and meditation on cellular aging in apparently healthy individuals: a Prospective, Open-Label Single-Arm exploratory study. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2017, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/7928981

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