STROKE patients who take up yoga are more likely to improve their balance and self-confidence.
A new study shows patients who took up the exercise were less likely to suffer from a long-term serious disability and at less risk of falling.
Around 12,500 people suffer a stroke in Scotland every year and a quarter of them are under the age of 65.
US doctors followed a 50-strong group of patients who took part in yoga classes to assess if it helped improve their balance.
All of them had suffered a stroke more than previous months before.
They found the exercise, which dates back to ancient Indian times, improved patients’ brain function and improved their balance.
Lead researcher Dr Arlene Schmid, a rehabilitation research scientist at Indiana University, said: “For people with chronic stroke, something like yoga in a group environment is cost effective and appears to improve motor function and balance.
“It has to do with the confidence of being more mobile. These were very meaningful changes in life for people.”
Her team monitored some patients as they took part in twice-weekly group sessions of yoga, which health experts say can aid a person’s physical, mental and spiritual health.
The classes included teaching people about creating the best postures, relaxation, and meditation, and classes became more complex.
The other patients took part in rehabilitation classes which did not include any yoga.
The experts found the group which did yoga significantly improved their balance by the end of the two-month period.
They also scored higher rates for feeling like they had regained their independence and quality of life, and said they were less afraid of falling.
Dr Schmid said: “For chronic stroke patients, even if they remain disabled, natural recovery and acute rehabilitation therapy typically ends after six months, or maybe a year.
“We know for a fact that the brain still can change. This study demonstrates that with some assistance, even chronic stroke patients with significant paralysis on one side can manage to do modified yoga poses.”
The oldest patient to take part in the trial was 90 and the average age of participants was 66. All of the people who undertook the yoga classes improved their balance.
Dr Schmid said yoga may be more therapeutic than traditional exercise because the combination of postures, breathing and meditation may produce different effects than simple exercise.
She called for more health providers, including GPs and health boards, to consider offering yoga as part of rehabilitation packages for stroke patients.
The team said their study, published in the journal Stroke, also showed the patients felt more confident about going outside unaided, and will now look at the other benefits of yoga on stroke patients.