Senior caucasian woman in half spinal twist pose on mat at home.

Strengthening the Mind and Body: Yoga for Healthy Aging

Are you looking for ways to prioritize your physical and mental health? Yoga has been practiced for centuries as a way to promote well-being at any age. However, there are many potential benefits of yoga for healthy aging specifically.  

Yoga can help with joint flexibility and range of motion, core and lower back strength, balance, and posture.  A regular yoga practice can also enhance breathing and circulation, relaxation, mood, sleep, immune function, and mental clarity.  

Additionally, those who engage in a regular practice of yoga experience less physical pain, improved energy, and reduced stress levels. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned yogi, there’s something to gain from yoga for healthy aging!

Staying Active as We Age

Maintaining health and strength as we age allows us to be independent and free to pursue activities we enjoy.  A sedentary lifestyle leads to premature aging and contributes to chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. 

It is important to move throughout the day, breaking up long periods of sitting (1). Further, more movement may mean better long-term health.  According to experts, regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health as you age. 

Recommendations are that adults should aim for 150 to 300 minutes a week of aerobic physical activity. Some types of aerobic activities are walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming.

You should also do some type of muscle-strengthening activity twice per week. This might include lifting weights, using resistance bands, or doing pull-ups, push-ups, and planks.  

Spending time on activities that maintain or improve flexibility, like dancing, or stretching (or yoga!), is also important for healthy aging. 

Not surprisingly, yoga provides all 3 of these different physical benefits! 

Further, adults over 65 should include some type of balance work as part of their physical activity (such as tai chi, or- you guessed it!- yoga!). But why wait? Start now!

Yoga for Healthy Aging: Physical Benefits 

There are many physical benefits of yoga for aging adults.  Yoga helps with strength, balance, and flexibility.  It has numerous other physical benefits as well.  

Read on to learn more!

Yoga for Strength 

While most people associate yoga with flexibility and relaxation, it can also be a powerful tool for building strength.

Many yoga poses involve engaging the core muscles (the muscles in your abdomen and back) to maintain balance and stability. By practicing these poses regularly, you can strengthen your core muscles, which helps improve your posture and support your spine.

Woman in plank pose
woman in chaturanga

Yoga poses like plank pose, downward-facing dog, and chaturanga (a low push-up) require you to hold yourself up using your arms and shoulders. These poses can help to improve upper body strength.

Yoga also improves lower body strength (2).  In addition, it is low-impact and modifiable, so it can be easily adjusted for different ability levels (3).

Yoga for Flexibility

There are many benefits of yoga for joint health.  Yoga improves both flexibility and range of motion (4, 5).

A variety of yoga postures (asanas) focus on stretching and elongating the muscles, thus improving flexibility. The practice of yoga emphasizes the importance of slow, controlled movements and mindful breathing, which can help increase flexibility over time.

people in a yoga class doing a seated side bend

How Does Yoga Improve Flexibility?

  • Stretching: Yoga postures involve stretching and elongating the muscles, which helps to increase flexibility and range of motion.
  • Improved blood flow: Yoga increases blood flow to the muscles, which helps to loosen them up and makes them more pliable.
  • Reduced stress: Yoga can help reduce stress and tension in the muscles, which can contribute to increased flexibility.
  • Mindfulness: Yoga emphasizes being present in the moment and paying attention to the body, which can help you to become more aware of your body’s limitations and areas where you need to work on flexibility.

Yoga for Balance  

Falls are a hazard that can result in serious injury, decreased independence, and reduced quality of life as we age (6).  According to the CDC, 1 in 4 older adults in the U.S. experience a fall each year.  Exercises that improve balance and make your legs stronger help you avoid falls.  

Yoga standing balance poses help to challenge and improve your stability.  These improvements can help decrease your risk of a fall.

Women in tree pose on a beach

Yoga for Immunity  

Your immune system protects your body from harmful germs. It plays an essential role in keeping you healthy by fighting off infections and diseases. However, factors such as stress, poor diet, or lack of sleep, can weaken your immune system’s ability to function effectively.

Yoga strengthens the immune system by reducing stress levels, and improving circulation and lymphatic flow. It also helps by increasing lung capacity, promoting relaxation response, and enhancing overall physical health. 

Chronic inflammation can alter your immune system and lead to diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and dementia.  Yoga can positively affect immune function by decreasing inflammation (7). 

Chronic stress can raise levels of stress hormones and negatively impact your immune system.  Studies show that practicing yoga regularly can reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline (8).

Yoga for Better Sleep

You’ve probably heard that sleep is vital for your overall health. Sometimes it can be challenging to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night. When you practice yoga you can help improve your sleep quality and energy levels (2).

Yoga practices like mindfulness meditation or pranayama (breathing techniques) help calm our minds and make it easier to sleep. Furthermore, yoga helps relax the body, release tension, and reduce stress levels, all contributing to a more restful night’s sleep. 

Woman sleeping

Yoga for Blood Pressure  

Yoga may help reduce your chances of developing hypertension (high blood pressure), which in turn lowers your risk for heart disease (9).

Yoga for Osteoporosis Prevention 

Yoga may help women maintain bone density after menopause (10).

Yoga for Chronic Pain Management

Low back pain is a frequent health complaint and one of the most common reasons for doctor visits. Yoga helps stretch and strengthen tight back muscles and improve mobility. Yoga may be effective in reducing chronic pain and may improve low-back pain and function (11).

Yoga for Inflammation 

Chronic inflammation occurs when your immune system is activated even when no injury or illness is present in your body. It is associated with risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and bowel disease. 

Exercise and relaxation techniques both help reduce chronic inflammation.  Yoga has both of these elements which may make it especially effective at reducing chronic inflammation (12).   

Yoga for Healthy Aging: Mental Benefits 

In addition to its many physical benefits, yoga has positive effects on mental well-being, including decreasing stress and maintaining cognitive health.

Yoga for Stress Relief 

Yoga helps regulate your sympathetic nervous system (8). This is what triggers your “fight or flight” response when you are stressed or in danger. Yoga’s effects on your nervous system may help you better navigate life’s stressors.

Yoga also helps to lower cortisol levels in the body – a hormone associated with stress (8). The breathing exercises, meditation, and relaxation techniques used during yoga promote calmness and tranquility which allows the body to relax.

Woman with stress headache

Yoga for Mental Health 

There are many benefits of yoga for mental health in aging adults.  Yoga can relieve anxiety and depression as well as improve mood and perception of mental health (2, 13).

Yoga for Improved Cognitive Function  

Low levels of physical activity are one of the many risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease (14). In contrast, an active lifestyle may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease by 45% (15). 

Exercise can stimulate blood flow to the brain and enhance learning and memory. It can also decrease the formation of plaques that are linked to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease (14).  

Yoga appears to have multiple effects on cognitive function, including memory, attention, and planning (16).  Yoga also helps maintain brain matter volume, the loss of which is an early marker of Alzheimer’s Disease (17).

Does Yoga Help With Aging?

Yes! Does yoga reverse aging? Unfortunately not. But yoga can help minimize some of the physical and mental changes that occur with aging.  

Pro-tip: Obtain permission from your healthcare provider before starting a new physical activity such as yoga.  Find a class tailored to your age and ability.  Start gently and work your way up as you become more proficient.

Want to know what poses yoga teachers think are most important for healthy aging?  See our article Best Yoga Poses for Healthy Aging According to Yoga Teachers!

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