Yoga is by far the most popular exercise program used by Age Sisters around the world. Many women tell me that, as they get older, yoga seems to work for their bodies and lifestyles. Why does this ancient practice enhance the modern ageing body? Let’s explore.
In recent years, yoga has moved from a niche activity to a mainstream exercise craze. Yoga’s popularity comes from both mental and physical health benefits. Yoga is a combination of focus on mind, body, and spirit. The practise of yoga integrates these three elements to foster compassion, well-being and inner peace.
Many women over 50 manage chronic pain conditions. Few find complete relief from medications, and many are looking for additional ways to better deal with aches and soreness. As a result, many studies have been conducted to look at the use of exercise to manage pain.
When researchers looked at the results of a study of using different types of exercise to control pain, they initially found that resistance training was the most effective intervention. But when the researchers isolated the impact of sex, along with adherence rates during the study, yoga seemed to be the best exercise for pain management for older women. Since this was a single study, it’s difficult to generalize the results, but it does give us some insight into yoga’s potential for pain control.
A similar study looked at the use of yoga to manage symptoms of osteoarthritis. The researchers found that not only were leg mobility and arthritis pain symptoms improved, but participants who did regular yoga also had better sleep patterns and had overall improved mental health.
In other research on the psychological benefits of yoga for older adult participants, the investigators found that those in a study who were randomized to a yoga program had lower scores for anger and depression, and higher scores for well-being and self-efficacy (having confidence in their abilities). The researchers concluded that just six-weeks of yoga had a significant positive impact on mental health outcomes.
Other research supports the influence of yoga on mood; in multiple studies on yoga and mental health, rates of depression, anxiety, and anger were much lower in those who participated in regular yoga practice. Other findings were improved sleep, positive perceptions of one’s health, and enhanced quality of life. 
Next week, I’m going to be writing about the association between the speed of your walk (gait speed) and how well you are expected to age. Several studies looking at yoga and ageing show that yoga has a positive impact on the range of motion in the legs, and subsequently, increased gait speed. Trust me; this is a good thing. In fact, in one study, the authors recommended that women start doing yoga at a much younger age to maintain their muscle strength as they get older.
I will always recommend that you include a variety of exercises in your exercise program (including strength-training and aerobic activities), but yoga is an excellent addition to your plan. Just keep in mind these important safety considerations:
1. Your instructor should have a certification from a recognized yoga certifying body. Their training should also include CPR and first aid.
2. Look for classes that have a low to moderate intensity warm-up phase to prepare you for the more challenging part of the session.
3. If you are new to yoga or if you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, look for classes that have slow and gentle movements. Classes with the name “flow” or “pump” can increase your risk of moving through poses too quickly and can put you at risk for injury.
4. Focus more on controlled movements and focus less on feeling an intense stretch from the move.
5. Don’t try or hold a pose that causes you pain. Ask the instructor for a modification.
6. Be aware that when using a prop (e.g., a block or belt) that you aren’t tempted to push beyond your limits to keep up with others in the class.
7. Look for classes that encourage you to align and lengthen your spine.
8. If you have osteoporosis or low bone mass, avoid classes with too many flexions or rotations. You can generally safely do a twist if you do so without gravity (e.g., lying on your back) and while focusing on about 70% or less of your maximal effort. If you feel too much strain through your torso or neck, stop the movement immediately. Avoid actions that add body weight on top of rotations (e.g., pigeon pose).
9. Always be very careful about entering or exiting a pose. Don’t be shy to ask the instructor for help.
Yoga is an excellent addition to any exercise program and can be done safely by most women. And seriously, exercise and mindfulness in one package? What’s not to love.
You sister in health,
 Qi Zhang, Lufei Young, & Feng Li. (2019). Network Meta-Analysis of Various Nonpharmacological Interventions on Pain Relief in Older Adults With Osteoarthritis. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 98(6), 469–478.
 Bonura, K. B., & Tenenbaum, G. (2014). Effects of yoga on psychological health in older adults. Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 11(7), 1334–1341. https://0-doi-org.orca.douglascollege.ca/10.1123/jpah.2012-0365
 Chen, K.-M., Chen, M.-H., Chao, H.-C., Hung, H.-M., Lin, H.-S., & Li, C.-H. (2009). Sleep quality, depression state, and health status of older adults after silver yoga exercises: Cluster randomized trial. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 46(2), 154–163.
 Gonçalves, L. C., de Souza Vale, R. G., Fontes Barata, N. J., Varejão, R. V., & Martin Dantas, E. H. (2011). Flexibility, functional autonomy and quality of life (QoL) in elderly yoga practitioners. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 53(2), 158–162.
 Pandya, S. P. (2019). Yoga education program for older women diagnosed with sarcopenia: A multicity 10-year follow-up experiment. Journal of Women & Aging, 31(5), 446–469. https://0-doi-org.orca.douglascollege.ca/10.1080/08952841.2018.1510245
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