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Yoga for Seniors

2015_06_11_Senior Yoga

According to Duke Integrative Medicine, seniors age 65 and older are the fastest growing sector of the U.S. population. In fact, by 2050, the senior population is expected to grow to over 80 million. Much of this growth in population is due to the increasing number of seniors who are interested in leading fit, active lifestyles throughout their golden years. 

As individuals age, they can become more susceptible to a variety of ailments that encourage a more sedentary lifestyle. By moving less, however, those ailments can become more severe- a vicious cycle that can rapidly limit mobility.

  • Sitting for extended periods of time can lead to shortening of the muscles, muscle tightness, and weakness.
  • Lack of weight-bearing activity can cause deterioration of the joints, decreased flexibility, and osteoporosis.
  • Loss of balance, often a result of infrequent balance-challenging activity, can lead to falls that could cause serious and sometimes disabling injuries. 
  • According to Jessica Matthews, an assistant professor of exercise science in San Diego, individuals lose approximately 1/2 pound of muscle each year for every year they are not engaged in some form of resistance training.

Fortunately, you don’t need to purchase an abundance of expensive exercise equipment in order to overcome these obstacles. Yoga is an excellent solution to help combat the ailments that are associated with aging. It’s an exercise that’s been growing in popularity with individuals of all ages in recent years- and for good reason. Yoga has been known to:

  • Reduce stress, fight depression, and build confidence 
  • Decrease pain and fatigue
  • Increase flexibility in muscles and joints
  • Improve balance and prevent falls
  • Decrease the need for more restrictive mobility aids like walkers and wheelchairs, enabling seniors to move on to walking canes (or nothing at all)
  • Build strength and endurance

Many people practice yoga as part of their physical therapy as well. Since this age-old exercise tackles both emotional and physical issues, it can be an extremely effective solution for people who have suffered an injury or illness that limits mobility or impedes confidence. 

What You Should Know

If you’ve made the decision to begin practicing yoga, there are a few things you should know in order to achieve a safer and more enriching experience. 

  • Consult Your Doctor: As with any new exercise routine, it is essential that you consult your doctor before beginning yoga. Be sure to discuss any health conditions or other limitations that could be of concern and share them with your yoga instructor.
  • Beginner’s Level: It may be a good idea to start with classes that are low-impact and focus mainly on relaxation; you can always work your way up to more advanced yoga.
  • Listen to Your Body: Although it is normal to experience minor soreness when you first begin practicing yoga, extreme pain and fatigue are indications that you are pushing yourself too hard. Listen to your body and know your limits. There is nothing wrong with taking things slowly.
  • Mobility Aids: You might find that you no longer need mobility aids as often as you used to. Be sure to keep a folding cane on hand just in case.

Which Type of Yoga is Right for You

According to the American Yoga Association, there are over 100 types of yoga. How do you know which style of yoga is right for you? If you’re a beginner who doesn’t know your ashtanga from your elbows, you might be a little bit intimidated by the exotic names that are associated with various yoga styles, so it would be wise to keep things simple. Look for Yoga I or Introduction to Yoga classes, or if you have special needs like hip, knee or ankle problems or need to use mobility aids, consider a special needs yoga class. 

Beginning yoga classes will familiarize you with the basic poses and teach you how to do them safely. Once you’ve learned the basics of yoga, you might decide to experiment with more advanced styles of the exercise. Some of the popular styles that are recommended for seniors include:

  • Hatha, which is a low-impact type of yoga that focuses on relaxation and meditation, is an excellent choice for seniors who are interested in stress reduction.
  • Lyengar is a form of yoga that incorporates the use of straps, blocks, harnesses, and incline boards. Props can increase range of motion and help seniors achieve positions they might otherwise have difficulty with. 
  • Restorative yoga uses props as well, and this slow-paced exercise can be very beneficial for individuals who are recovering from an injury or illness. 

Seniors may want to avoid more demanding styles of yoga like power, ashtanga, and bikram. These forms are often more fast-paced and incorporate more difficult poses that many seniors find too challenging. AARP.org offers a wealth of information about these and other forms of yoga as well. 

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