Older adults who practise yoga are more likely to be in better mental and physical shape, research from the University of Edinburgh suggests.
The study, the first of its kind, which focused on healthy adults over 60, found the physical benefits of yoga - an ancient practise featuring postures and regulated breathing - included better muscle strength, balance and flexibility.
Boosts to mental health included improvement in the symptoms of depression, sleep quality and vitality.
Researchers reviewed 22 studies examining the effects of yoga on physical and mental wellbeing in older adults. Programmes varied from one month to seven months, and from 30 to 90 minutes.
Statistical analysis combined the results of the studies to see the effects of yoga compared to no activity, and compared to other activities such as walking and chair aerobics.
The researchers found people who practised yoga had improved balance, flexibility, leg strength, depression, sleep quality, vitality and perceived mental and physical health – compared to no activity.
Compared with other activities yoga improved lower body strength, lower body flexibility and depression.
Researchers say the review improves understanding of the benefits yoga can offer an ageing population. They say it provides evidence for promoting yoga in physical activity guidelines for older adults.
Lead researcher Dr Divya Sivaramakrishnan, of the university’s physical activity for health research centre, said: “A large proportion of older adults are inactive, and do not meet the balance and muscle strengthening recommendations set by government and international health organisations. Based on this study, we can conclude yoga has great potential to improve important physical and psychological outcomes in older adults. Yoga is a gentle activity that can be modified to suit those with age-related conditions and diseases.”
Hailey O’Hara, head of yoga training for Tribe Yoga and Tribe Academy in Edinburgh, said physical exercises and breathing techniques could help older people.
“It really helps facilitate ageing gracefully. Older people can be in the midst of pretty big life changes such as going from work to retirement, children leaving home and bodies changing. It brings everything into a state of balance.
“People often also say it helps with aches and pains, high blood pressure.”
Fiona Armour, 61, an art teacher from Stockbridge in Edinburgh, took up yoga four years ago, starting with one class a week and gradually increasing to daily sessions.
Ms Armour said she regarded he Vinyasa flow yoga classes as “age-proofing”
“I was in my late 50s and had always been quite healthy but was beginning to feel the stresses of getting older. I had thoughts like ‘what am I doing?’, ‘where am I going?’ and wondering if I’d been successful enough.
“Yoga takes you through both breathing and movement.
“When you go in to a class there is the typical chatter of the mind. But when you are instructed to ‘inhale, move your arm this way’ for a whole hour it slows your breathing.
Ms Armour added: “It only takes a minute of slowing breathing down to calm someone down.
“I’m a swimmer and it changed my swim stroke. All for a sudden I could my whole spine could move better and I was walking more freely.”