Why Older Adults Should Practice Yoga
We are pleased to share a guest blog with you today. Jim Vogel started ElderAction.org as a means to provide resources to seniors and to adult children and caregivers who are caring for senior parents. He is passionate about spreading awareness to improve senior living.
Why Older Adults Should Practice Yoga
Yoga is beneficial for people of all ages. It teaches children to self-calm and be aware of their bodies and helps adults stay agile and de-stress at the end of the day. For adults reaching their senior years, yoga offers especially valuable benefits.
For many adults, getting older comes with a loss of muscle mass and bone density. Weakened muscles increase a senior’s fall risk, and frail bones makes a fall more likely to end in permanent disability.
Maintaining health and quality of life in old age requires maintaining stability and balance. Yoga works balance in a way few forms of exercise can match. It does this in two ways: First, it builds strength and flexibility. Second, it teaches awareness of the body and its movements, so practitioners are able to sense where their body is moving without watching.
The benefits of yoga go beyond the physical. Especially when paired with meditation, yoga relieves stress and anxiety and improves emotional regulation. Because chronic stress is associated with a wide range of health conditions, managing stress is central to staying healthy.
There’s evidence that yoga affects cognitive health as well. As NBC News reports, older adults who practice yoga may see improvements in memory and executive functioning. Researchers posit this is due to meditation’s effect on the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with learning and memory.
Yoga might seem like a trend for the young, but in fact, millions of older adults practice yoga. According to the 2016 Yoga in America study from the Yoga Alliance, adults over the age of 50 represent 38 percent of the 36 million Americans who practice yoga. Nonetheless, if you’ve never practiced yoga yourself, you might feel intimidated to start.
One of yoga’s best features is that it’s easily adapted to practitioners of all ability levels. Whether you’re an aging adult trying to maintain your physical and mental health as you head into your senior years, or a caregiver of a senior living with disability, there’s a yoga practice to match your ability level.
Beginners and people with limited mobility will find a gentle introduction in Hatha, Iyengar, and Yin yoga. These yoga practices rely on slow-paced movement to teach poses and bodily awareness, and are also ideal when looking to reap the meditative benefits of yoga. Because there’s less emphasis on movement, practitioners can focus on deep breathing and mindfulness. While all forms of yoga incorporate meditation, beginners find it easier to learn meditative techniques when they’re not worried about keeping up with a flow.
Once comfortable with basic poses and yogic breathing, novice practitioners can try more fast-paced forms of yoga such as Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and Bikram yoga. Advanced moves and flowing movements make these forms of yoga excellent for building strength and stability.
Yoga can be practiced in instructor-led classes or at home. Working with an instructor is good for learning proper form and breathing techniques, but there are also many resources for new yoga practitioners to learn at home. Older adults who prefer to exercise at home can follow along with exercise videos, fitness apps, and even the Nintendo Wii Fit.
Seniors also can find resources for other great indoor exercises including strength, step, balance and stretching exercises. An aerobic workout can strengthen the mobility in your knees, and resistance training can help you to work your muscles.
Changing habits is hard, especially when you’re older. But when it comes to adding yoga and meditation into their lives, aging adults have nothing to lose and much to gain. Improved physical, mental, and cognitive health means more years living independently, maintaining a presence in the community, and feeling strong and healthy. If that’s what you’d like your old age to look like, it’s time to give yoga a closer look.
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