Physical activity is an excellent way to stay healthy and remain independent. However, 60% to 85% of people in the world – from both developed and developing countries – lead sedentary lifestyles according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Physical inactivity is an easy way to increase the risk of many severe health conditions, such as hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. In fact, a sedentary lifestyle increases mortality rate by 71%. Even people who exercise moderately but sit more than 5-6 hours increase their mortality risk by 50% according to a comprehensive study.
In light of the benefits of consistent physical activity, it is important to find exercises which are suitable, healthy and sustainable. Seniors, in particular, can benefit from physical activities that help to improve their physical, mental and overall well-being.
In recent years, yoga has grown in popularity among many age groups. Seniors are hopping on the bandwagon, too, as more realize the benefits of yoga. Yoga, originated in India, is the practice of unifying mind, body, and spirit. Research has shown that seniors can reap benefits from yoga, such as improving their balance, mobility, and overall health.
In this post, we will explore the key benefits of yoga for seniors, and how it can be practised for total mind, body, spirit health.
Common health conditions among seniors
A large majority of seniors suffer from at least one chronic health condition, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA). Some of the most common physical health conditions among seniors are hypertension, osteoporosis, arthritis, and respiratory-related diseases. Seniors also often suffer from instability, resulting in A&E visits. According to the NCOA, a senior arrives at the A&E every 11 seconds after suffering a fall.
Common mental health conditions among seniors include dementia, depression, anxiety, and stress. According to the NCOA, about 25% of seniors suffer from at least one mental health condition, and many do not receive the necessary treatment. The fantastic thing about yoga, and possibly the main reason seniors should start practising yoga, is that it can prevent both physical and mental health conditions such as these.
Benefits of yoga
Yoga involves the use of all muscles in nearly every pose. Regardless of the level of difficulty, the proper practice of yoga poses is sure to increase muscle strength throughout the body. It also requires uncommon movements of certain joints. Seniors can manage and even prevent arthritis due to these joint movements. Similar to better joint flexibility, bones can also be strengthened by yoga. Therefore, warding off osteoporosis.
Yoga practice inevitably improves balance and flexibility, as well. In fact, it is two of the benefits that seniors may notice before any of the others. With increased strength, improved flexibility, and better balance, seniors can live independently longer.
Because yoga involves controlled breathing, seniors can also improve their heart and lung health. The mindfulness of breathing patterns can also act as a soothing, meditation type practice, which can fight off insomnia if done at nighttime. Seniors can also use yoga to reduce stress and anxiety for the same reason.
Types of yoga for seniors
There are several types of yoga, such as restorative, ashtanga, kundalini, and lyengar. Each one focuses on a different part of yoga. Therefore, seniors can choose the type of yoga they want to practice based on the benefits they hope to reap. There are at least seven different types of yoga seniors can choose from.
Read also: Top 11 Popular Types of Yoga Explained
Iyengar yoga is excellent for improving posture and strengthening the muscles responsible for proper posture. This type of yoga focuses on improving the alignment of the body by perfecting specific yoga poses. When practising Iyengar yoga, seniors will use many props that they wouldn’t otherwise use when practising other yoga types.
Restorative yoga focuses more on the mind and spiritual aspect of yoga. This yoga is practised by performing a series of low-intensity poses using props such as pillows and blankets. If reducing stress and anxiety is the primary goal, restorative yoga is the way to go.
Yin yoga is a slower-paced practice that involves holding poses longer than other types of yoga require. Poses performed during a Yin yoga practice work to stretch tissues and fascia throughout the body, improving flexibility. By improving flexibility, Yin yoga can also improve joint function.
Read also: Yin Yoga Guide – All You Need to Know
Kundalini yoga is similar to Restorative yoga because it focuses on channeling spiritual connections. Most Kundalini yoga poses are performed in the seated or kneeling position. Kundalini yoga involves the most meditation out of the other yoga types, so it is perfect for practicing before bedtime to prevent insomnia.
Unlike Yin yoga, where poses are held for longer periods of time, Vinyasa yoga involves swift, fluid movements between poses. Because it involves constant movement, less fit seniors may find Vinyasa yoga physically tiresome. Vinyasa yoga improves strength, flexibility, and breathing patterns.
Hatha yoga is generally thought of as a general term when describing yoga. Hatha involves mind, body, and spiritual aspects of yoga. Known benefits of Hatha yoga include core muscle strengthening, insomnia prevention, lessening depression symptoms, and reducing stress.
Ashtanga yoga is possibly one of the most physically challenging types of yoga. This type of yoga involves fast-paced movements along with acrobatic poses that are best performed at the
advanced skill level. Other types of yoga don’t always have a set routine of poses. However, when practising Ashtanga yoga, the same poses are performed in the same order every time.
How seniors can start yoga
While yoga may seem simple and easy in theory, it can be dangerous without proper training and fitness. If a senior starts practicing yoga for the first time as a beginner, but at an advanced level, they could pull muscles, fall, or even break something. Therefore, seniors should understand their bodies’ abilities and start at the appropriate skill level when starting yoga and work their way up to more advanced practices.
The best and safest way for seniors to start yoga is in a group setting with a trained instructor to guide them. Starting this way will ensure that they are performing each pose correctly and, therefore, safely. If something were to happen, they wouldn’t be home alone in need of assistance.
Seniors could also start with chair yoga. Chair yoga allows seniors to perform yoga poses but with the assistance of a chair. They can use this chair to help them balance or can even perform some poses while seated in the chair.
Beginner yoga poses and transitions
When practising yoga, a person should transition from one pose to another fluidly, meaning that each pose is easily connected by simply adjusting certain parts of the body. For example, a yoga practice may start on the floor, completing all the floor poses first and then transitioning into a standing position and completing poses that involve standing, or vice versa. Some yoga practices may even start in a seated position, then standing positions, then back to a seated position.
When getting their feet wet, seniors can start with a few of the most basic yoga poses and transitions.
Mountain is a yoga post that involves standing up straight, shoulders back, feet together, arms down, and facing outward palms. While in this pose, seniors can focus on obtaining a controlled breathing pattern that will continue throughout the yoga practice.
From here, seniors can transition into tree. Tree is a balancing pose that requires one foot on the ground, and the other foot placed flat on the inner thigh. If this is their first yoga practice, seniors can rely on a chair or wall to help them balance. Once balanced, they will bring their palms together towards their chest.
After holding the tree pose on each leg for five to ten breaths, they can transition into warrior one. Warrior one is the least advanced pose of the warrior series. To transition from tree to warrior, they will place both feet back on the ground while bringing their hands to their sides. Then, they will step forward with one foot, creating a lunge position.
The further the front foot is from the back foot, the more stretching and strengthening the pose will do. However, seniors shouldn’t push the limits until they have perfected the basics. Once balanced, they can raise their arms above their heads, pointing them straight towards the ceiling with their fingers opened wide and palms facing each other.
Beginner seated poses are great for practicing meditation and controlled breathing but can also be useful for stretching.
Cat-cow pose is excellent for stretching lower back muscles. First, seniors can sit upright in a chair, on the ground with their legs crossed underneath them, or seated on their knees.
With hands placed on top of their knees, they can arch their lower back while looking up towards the ceiling. Then, slowly rolling the spine the opposite direction with their chin tucked into their chest. Going from cat to cow repeatedly can reduce lower back pain. Seniors can also perform this pose while on their hands and knees. However, that may cause unwanted pressure on the wrist and knee joints.
The bound angle or “butterfly” pose is an excellent seated pose that encourages flexibility in the hips. While seated, one foot is brought in towards the pelvis, and then the next foot followers. The position is achieved once both feet are flat against each other. Eventually, seniors will start to realize their knees will fall closer to the floor, allowing their hip flexors to open up.
Child’s pose is a simple relaxing pose, usually the ending of most yoga practices. To transition from butterfly to child’s pose, the feet are extended away from the body, so the legs are straight out in front. Next, one by one, the legs are brought underneath the person’s body, so they are now seated on their knees. With feet together but knees apart, the person will lay their chest between their knees as close to the ground as possible while reaching their arms out above their head.
Advancing in difficulty
Once seniors have a firm grasp on basic yoga poses, they can transition to more advanced poses. Nearly every yoga pose has a beginner and advanced level, so the poses may not be completely new to the person practising them for the first time.
However, seniors shouldn’t increase their yoga practice’s difficulty until they have consulted with their doctor. Depending on their condition, doctors recommend their patients not to perform certain poses without appropriate supervision. With that said, if practised correctly, yoga can be excellent for improving a senior’s overall health.
Danielle Roberts is a Medicare expert and the co-founder of Boomer Benefits, a licensed insurance agency that helps baby boomers navigate their entry into Medicare in 48 states. She and her team have helped more than 50,000 Medicare beneficiaries make their transition to Medicare at retirement. She is also the author of the best-selling book 10 Costly Medicare Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make, which helps beneficiaries avoid critical but all too common Medicare pitfalls. Danielle is a member of the Forbes Finance Council and a past president of the Fort Worth chapter of the National Association of Health Underwriters. She now serves on the state board as its Medicare chairperson.