Is yoga for Older guys? Well, Dr. Deepak Chopra, the popular wellness advocate says, “Most people think that aging is irreversible and we know that there are mechanisms even in the human machinery that allow for the reversal of aging, through correction of diet, through anti-oxidants, through removal of toxins from the body, through exercise, through yoga and breathing techniques, and through meditation.”
The practice of yoga is well-known for benefits like increased flexibility and mental clarity, but as Dr. Chopra points out, it also provides many anti-aging benefits, making it an important part of a well-rounded fitness regimen as we age. Here are just a few benefits that highlight the power of yoga for healthy aging:
Increased strength, flexibility, balance, and mobility
As we age, we begin to experience muscle loss which can lead to a more fragile body and increased risk of injuries. Much of that muscle loss can be attributed to inactivity. Fortunately, as shown by the The Buck Institute for Age Research, staying active through yoga can provide total-body resistance that can reverse this age-related muscle loss.
In a separate study of a twelve-week Iyengar yoga program, an improvement in balance and mobility in older people was observed. Fifty-four people (mean age 68), not currently practicing yoga or tai chi, participated in a yoga program twice a week. These participants practiced standing postures and received a fall prevention education booklet. Compared to those who only received the education booklet, the group practicing Iyengar yoga postures showed significant improvement in standing balance, a sit-to-stand test, a four-meter walk, and a one-legged stand with eyes closed.
Improved spinal health
A commonly recognized sign of aging is a decrease in stature as the spine begins to exhibit signs of wear and tear. This appearance of “shrinking” can be attributed to the discs between the vertebrae of the spine becoming thinner, drier, and more brittle — causing the distance between them to collapse. Yoga may be a vital component of maintaining our spine’s health.
A 2011 study looked at the spines of long-term yoga teachers and those of generally healthy people. They found that the spines of the yoga teachers showed far less damage than those of the generally healthy people. Since a typical yoga class includes postures that allow the spine to move in various directions, a dedicated practice of yoga may be key to ensuring it remains functioning well.
Increased growth hormones
Growth hormones are responsible for stimulating cell growth and cell reproduction. This allows our bodies to generate new tissues like skin and muscle. Unfortunately, as we age, levels of this critical hormone decrease. Luckily, a study of a twelve-week yoga program that included asana (postures), kriya (cleansing exercises), pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation showed promise in increasing GH levels by the end of the program. As an added bonus, participants also showed declines in body mass index (BMI).
While we tend to think of antioxidants as coming from food, our bodies also naturally produce them in order to limit oxidative stress. When oxidative stress is high, DNA and cells can be damaged. Conditions that are associated with accelerated cellular aging include depression, infertility, and heart disease.
Yoga can help combat this type of stress at the cellular level. A 2007 study found that “regular practice of yoga can maintain or improve antioxidant levels of the body...” Similarly, a 2017 study also found that a yoga and meditation-based lifestyle intervention program reduced the rate of cellular aging after twelve weeks. Yoga and anti aging go hand in hand by maintaining a healthy level of antioxidants in the body to defend against oxidative stress, and combatting cellular aging.
Yoga holds the key to the fountain of youth, and as ISHTA yoga founder, Alan Finger, points out, “...adds years to your life and life to your years.” Practicing yoga for healthy aging in your wellness routine ensures that you have more control of the aging process.