Although it may sometimes look like it, yoga is not just a young man’s game. Getting older brings with it many great benefits, including wisdom, experience and a different perspective on life. But at the same time, it can bring some less desirable effects for the body and mind. Luckily yoga and meditation provide many great health benefits that can relieve the physical and mental limitations that come with age.
1. Yoga Improves Joint Health and Flexibility
Flexibility tends to decrease with age. But why is flexibility important to our overall physical health? Flexibility improves blood flow, decreases the risk of injuries and maintains an optimal range of motion in the body. However, we don’t need to be able to do the splits to benefit from flexibility. Especially for seniors, the key areas to focus on are hamstrings, hips, shoulders, and neck. Practicing restorative yoga or yin yoga will keep your body flexible and your joints supple.
A recent study showed that yoga can be a great pain reliever for people with osteoarthritis (a chronic condition of the joints causing pain, stiffness and swelling). After an eight-week yoga program, participants in the study experienced significant improvement in levels of stiffness and pain relating to their osteoarthritis. For every condition, there are suitable yoga practices. We just have to remember to start gently and to give it time.
2. Yoga Improves Balance
Many yoga poses require us to focus on balance and stability. This strengthens not only the major muscle groups in the body, but also the ones close to our core, which are responsible for keeping us balanced. Our sense of balance deteriorates as we age, which makes yoga a great exercise to combat the risk of falls. And should such an unfortunate event happen, the better the overall strength and balance a person has, the faster they can recover from a fall or an injury.
3. Yoga Reduces Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a serious health concern for many seniors. A Swedish study of adults aged 20–80 who had been diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure) found that simple yoga practices done at home can be a useful adjunct therapy for blood pressure.
Yoga includes techniques to calm the body and mind, as well as light physical movement, both of which are beneficial for lowering blood pressure. The great news is that, according to the study, we don’t need to go to lengthy yoga classes to achieve these benefits: a simple home practice will do!
4. Meditation Increases Mindfulness
One of the great effects of meditation is its ability to increase mindfulness. For seniors, this can mean an increased feeling of connectedness to others and to the universe, a new level of meaning and importance to life, fewer feelings of loneliness and isolation, and a sense of empowerment.
There is great wisdom and beauty that comes with old age – something our current culture does not always recognize. Meditation and mindfulness can bring a healthy dose of self-esteem and help with seeing the positives in life.
5. Meditation Helps Memory
Perhaps one of the most common side effects of aging is the decline in memory. The journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience published a review of several studies on meditation and its effects on cognitive functions in the context of aging. They confirmed a positive effect of meditation on cognition, especially in the areas of attention, memory, verbal fluency, and cognitive flexibility.
It’s certainly worth a try! Even few minutes of simple meditation daily can increase mental alertness and improve creativity and focus.
6. Meditation Can Improve Digestion
Deep breathing done in meditation improves blood circulation and boosts blood oxygen levels. Calming the mind with meditation also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for slowing heart rate and blood pressure, as well as soothing the digestive tract.
The parasympathetic nervous system is therefore said to promote a ‘rest and digest’ response in the body. When we are relaxed, the digestive tract can do its job optimally. Seniors suffering from digestive issues can therefore greatly benefit from regular meditation.
Yoga and meditation are phenomenal companions for people all ages, and especially seniors. When it provides us with so many lovely benefits, who can afford not to include a gentle home practice in their day? As we know, yoga is not about twisting and turning yourself into difficult poses, it’s about doing what you can do, respecting your body and your age, and allowing yoga to support your current stage of life.
Image credit: Yogo Girls