Oftentimes when people consider practicing yoga for improved health and wellness, the words “new age” come to mind. However, this could not be further from the truth. Yoga is an age-old practice that dates back to the dawn of civilization and combines four key elements: controlled breathing, deep relaxation, meditation and physical poses – all beneficial exercises for seniors.
Read more about yoga and other low-impact exercise for seniors that can improve mental and physical health.
Yoga is diverse and dynamic and there are a variety of styles to practice, depending on your physical abilities and preferences, making it a fantastic exercise for seniors.
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Restorative yoga, for example, is accommodating and gentle, focusing on low-impact stretching and muscle strengthening, while lowering blood pressure and improving emotional and mental wellness. Yoga also protects bones and joints, by putting less strain on the body than other forms of exercise and is great for keeping seniors flexible.
The Chopra Centre, which is known as the “premier provider of experiences, education, teacher trainings and products that improve the health and well-being of body, mind and spirit,” suggests that yoga is especially beneficial for seniors, as it encourages mindfulness and directly addresses health concerns that many seniors face, including:
Harvard Medical School strongly supports the link between yoga and improved mental and physical health, and even suggests it be prescribed as an alternative medical treatment. Harvard Health Publishing has developed an “Introduction to Yoga” document, designed to show people how easy and rewarding yoga can be.
Their research shows the top benefits of the practice, including:
An article published by Harvard Medical School found that yoga “can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses” and greatly reduce anxiety and depression. This is because yoga teaches critically important “self-soothing” techniques, which in turn allow people to connect with their inner self and harness their feelings. Yoga also helped to improve the physical symptoms of anxiety and depression by reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and easing respiration.
This study showcases the unique symbiosis between our mental and physical health – they are “not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent.”
The article concludes that there is growing evidence to prove that “yoga practice is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.”
Another research-based article published by Harvard Health Publishing suggests that yoga offers a wealth of physical health benefits, especially for seniors, as the movements and postures help to promote flexibility and reduce joint pain. In fact, preliminary research shows that yoga improves a host of health conditions, including ADHD, balance and mobility issues, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, migraines, multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis.
Studies also reveal strong empirical evidence that yoga offers short-term and long-term effectiveness for sufferers of chronic back pain, as well as significant improvements in symptoms of people with osteoarthritis of the knees. In fact, a 2014 study concluded that of a group of 36 senior women who practiced an average of 112 minutes of yoga per week for eight weeks:
38% reported a “reduction in pain and a 35% reduction in stiffness,” compared to a “no-yoga group” who reported to have worsening symptoms after eight weeks.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that yoga is an all-over beneficial form of exercise for seniors, however there are other low impact exercises to consider as well:
Chair-based aerobics are offered at many fitness centers and senior communities and help to improve balance, cardiovascular health and muscle strength, while improving energy and reducing the risk of falls. Light weights or resistance bands can be added to aerobics for added strength training, which builds muscle and protects bones.
Swimming is a fabulous way to improve cardiovascular health, energy and strength while protecting aching or arthritic joints. The buoyancy offered by the water allows seniors to get full range of motion and strengthen muscles without the strain of weight on their body.
Tai Chi is a form of martial arts with moving sequences that focuses on meditation and mental strength. Tai Chi improves flexibility and focus and offers many of the same health benefits as yoga.
Whether you are drawn to aerobics, swimming, tai chi or yoga, the most important aspect of exercise for seniors is to get out and try it!
These low impact exercises offer great mental and physical health benefits, while protecting and strengthening the body.
Have you tried one of these activities? What are your favorite low-impact exercises for seniors? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.