THE BENEFITS OF YOGA FOR OLDER ADULTS
There are times in people’s lives when for some, life feels overwhelming often due to injury discomfort. Others like the sociable aspects of a class with a group of like-minded people. All of us enjoy the benefits that yoga brings to us.
Fenella Lindsell has been teaching classes to older adults for 15 years and was invited to do so by a Doctor’s Practice in South West London, to help patients reduce their medication, manage their pain through exercise and breathing, improve their sleep, reduce symptoms of anxiety and other issues. She highlights below how beneficial yoga can be to people as they get older.
IMPROVES BONE HEALTH, MUSCLE STRENGTH AND POSTURE
We understand that weight bearing exercise helps to build strength in the bones which in turn can prevent osteoporosis. Yoga postures help to develop strength and muscle tone in the arm bones which are very vulnerable to osteoporotic fractures.
The calming effects of yoga exercises can help reduce the release of the stress hormone cortisol which can deplete calcium in the bones which makes them more brittle and prone to breaking.
Yoga postures strengthen muscles around important joint areas such as the pelvis, shoulders, knees and lower back. This in turn helps balance and flexibility whilst reducing pain and discomfort.
Through developing strength in the bones and the muscles, posture improves which in turn reduces back, neck and shoulder issues which help to prevent the degenerative effects of arthritis.
By practising yoga in bare feet, and learning how to balance using the correct distribution of weight through your feet, your proprioception improves. (This is the ability to feel what your body is doing and where it is in space). Integrating balancing poses into a yoga class means fewer falls.
In 2010 the NHS spent £4.6 million a day on the effects of falls, according to AGE UK. Falls remain a major cause of injury and death in the over 70s and account for more than 50% of hospital admissions.
REDUCES SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY
As people grow older they often become more anxious about day to day tasks and yoga can help to give them a sense of calm through the posture work and breathing exercises, smoothing away the jagged spikes of stress. Attitudes are changing, and where previously the Medical Community tended to recommend medication to treat these conditions, they are now turning more towards more holistic activities like yoga.
There is evidence to prove that yoga works because instead of just treating the symptoms through medicine, it teaches you to manage your concerns rather than block them unnaturally. Combining yoga with easy breathing exercises as a mindfulness practice can alleviate many of the symptoms of anxiety and insomnia.
Try taking time to sit and focus on breathing in for the count of 4 and out for the count of 6 for 10 minutes. We can never stop the thinking mind, but what we can do is observe the thoughts and let them go, returning to the breath each time to maintain the focus.
Mindfulness helps you create a healthy emotional distance from distressing thoughts, whilst yoga can help lower your emotional disturbance. When something worrying happens or you’re anxious you’re able to meet it with presence, curiosity and patience rather than a fearful reaction.
LOWERS BLOOD SUGAR
Yoga exercise lowers blood sugar and the LDL (bad) cholesterol and helps to boost HDL (good) cholesterol. This is particularly apparent in people with diabetes and is achieved by reducing the levels of cortisol and adrenaline which can prevent weight gain and improve sensitivity to the effects of insulin. When we are stressed, we often eat the wrong salty, fatty, sugary foods. The body, recognising a state of emergency, tends to store these as fat.
If we lower our cortisol and adrenaline outputs through calming, focused exercise, we will naturally help to lower blood sugar levels and decrease the risk of diabetic complications and heart attacks.
HELPS TO LOWER BLOOD PRESSURE
The British medical journal, the Lancet published and interesting article. It compared people who relaxed by lying on a sofa to those who practised yoga relaxation in Savasana (corpse pose). After 3 months, there was a 26 point drop in the systolic blood pressure (the top number) and a 15 point drop in the diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) in those that practised the yoga relaxation. It was found that the higher the initial blood pressure, the more noticeable the drop.
It is clear, that combining the exercise practice of yoga with mindful breathing and relaxation can reduce so many of the symptoms seen on a daily basis in our Health Service. We all know how stretched the NHS is at the moment and yoga can very effectively help people to manage their own health and well being.