There are many types of physical exercise to benefit our bodies at every age and one of the increasingly popular ways to get fit is with yoga.
"The latest boom is in 40-plus, which is the largest population bubble we have," said Larry Payne, Ph.D. and co-author of Yoga Rx and Yoga for Dummies. "This is the largest potential group that can benefit from yoga, and the most underserved population is men."
In focusing on people in their 40s and 50s and beyond, Payne says there are some specific poses in yoga to avoid, such as inversions like standing on one's head. As the body ages, one's yoga practice should adjust to what is best for their current state, he said. In a revised edition of Yoga for Dummies, Payne has a section devoted to yoga for aging bodies.
"The key is to address the individual needs," he said. "Schools of yoga that are one-size-fits-all can be harmful for someone who is aging."
Is Yoga for You?
The human condition is to be aging all the time, so this begs the question as to what age someone can benefit from yoga and how?
A study by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health found that yoga is "one of the top 10 complementary health practices used among U.S. adults."
There are numerous schools of yoga – Hatha yoga is the most commonly practiced in the U.S. and it emphasizes postures and breathing exercises. Iyengar and Vinyasa are other gentle yoga styles offered at yoga studios in many cities. Many experts believe it can help with a variety of conditions, such as lower back pain, and to achieve fitness and relaxation.
Dr. Loren Fishman, a back-pain and rehabilitative medicine specialist who incorporates yoga into patient care,” provided advice to readers of The New York Times on this topic. “There are things you may need to give up in your yoga practice as you get older,” he said in the article. “People age differently, and yet there are characteristic aspects to aging. Standing poses like the tree, the warrior trilogy, and half-moon promote these positive traits and are among the last poses one should give up as one age.”
Payne lists his own top five reasons to practice yoga:
- Reduce stress. "The American Medical Association has said that 80 percent of all illness has a stress component," Payne said.
- Improve circulation
- Increase not only flexibility but also your strength
- Increase your willpower. "This is helpful for people watching their weight," Payne commented.
- Improve your overall sense of well-being
He recommends people in their 40s or older adjust their yoga practice to reflect their age rather than training like professional athletes, who are typically in their 20s or early 30s.
Show Me the Benefits
Brad Gibson, a professor at the Buck Institute and director of the institute's Chemistry and Mass Spectrometry Core, has a blog called "Yoga and Healthy Aging." He was a latecomer to yoga, taking on something of a challenge from his wife when he was nearing his 50th birthday.
"My interest started with wanting to find something that would improve my strength and sense of well-being," he said. "I was intrigued whether the practice would ward off some of the things I've seen as people age – mental issues, lack of strength."
Gibson has now maintained a yoga practice for 10 years and considers it beneficial, but continues to look for scientific data to prove these benefits, such as high blood pressure or improved sleep.
"There is data that show yoga can reduce blood pressure related to stress," he said.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health produced a series of videos on the scientific results for alternative therapies, including yoga. Individuals should always check with their own primary doctor if they have questions about practicing yoga, even after they have watched such videos.
When it comes to evaluating the risks versus benefits of a yoga practice, Gibson said he considered the alternative: "What's the risk of not doing anything?"