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.
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 for Flexibility
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.
How Does Yoga Improve 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.
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.
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.
Yoga for Mental Health
Yoga for Improved Cognitive Function
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!
Kate is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and certified yoga instructor with a Master’s in Public Health. She loves to share what she has learned about nutrition and yoga to help people live healthier, more balanced lives. When not working on this blog or teaching yoga, Kate is usually spending time with family and friends or reading a good book.