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The ancient practice of yoga brings together mind and body with poses and breathing techniques to create strength, harmony and awareness. Today, a growing number of practitioners look to the specialized movements and breathing techniques of yoga to boost health and relieve stress.

September has been designated by the United States Department of Health and Human Services as National Yoga Month, a time to educate the public about the many benefits of yoga. What are some of the ways yoga can help with healthy aging, and what do you need to know to get started?

A Growing Body of Evidence

For centuries, individuals who practiced yoga experienced benefits to their health. In recent years, medical evidence increasingly supports the beneficial impacts yoga has for overall healthy aging and for specific health conditions.

Research has found that yoga may help manage conditions that primarily affect individuals as they age. For instance, low back pain, joint stiffness and problems with balance all may improve with regular yoga practice.

A number of medical schools are developing yoga programs geared toward healthy aging. The specific components of yoga that can help improve overall fitness and lower the risk of falling serve as one area of focus.

Effects on Parkinson’s Disease

The National Institutes of Health cites yoga as a leading alternative therapy, and many individuals with Parkinson’s disease have found benefits. Yoga practitioners pay special attention to controlling their breath — known as pranayama — which can provide assistance in moments of anxiety or panic.

By taking deep breaths, individuals with Parkinson’s can learn to become more aware of the sensations in their bodies and shift their reactions away from anxiety. The poses — or asanas — of yoga bring relaxed muscles and decreased rigidity. This deep state of relaxation may help with a reduction in tremors and an improvement in gait immediately after yoga sessions.

Additional Physical Benefits

The relaxation inherent in the practice of yoga may help reduce headaches, arthritis and other forms of lower back pain. Additional health benefits may include:

• Better bone health. Research has found that practicing yoga in a gentle manner may help slow or even prevent bone loss.
• Reduced symptoms of menopause. Some yoga poses may help smooth out hormonal fluctuations that cause anxiety, hot flashes and other negative effects of menopause.
• Improved flexibility and muscle strength. The gentle stretching included in yoga can help increase range of motion, which typically declines as an individual ages. Better flexibility and strength may reduce the risk of falls.
• Better energy and athletic performance. Practicing yoga may also assist with weight control.

Mental Advantages

Along with the physical benefits, yoga offers a number of advantages in managing stress, which can have a significant, negative impact on both body and mind as people age. Experts say stress can manifest through a variety of serious physical symptoms, including headaches, insomnia and neck and back pain.

For many people, yoga offers a powerful method for maintaining a positive outlook and calm state, which can help ward off the detrimental effects of stress and anxiety. With regular practice, yoga can help create feelings of calm, along with better concentration and relaxation.

No Special Equipment Required

Yoga can be practiced anywhere, and no special exercise equipment or clothing is required. The low-maintenance nature of yoga makes it an ideal form of anti-aging exercise for most people.

In addition, just about anyone at any level of ability can begin a yoga practice, since it causes very little physical strain on the body. Unlike high-intensity aerobic exercises, yoga is a low-impact option that should not significantly stress your joints.
Yoga can help you build strength, but you are less likely to suffer an injury than with other forms of strength training that require the addition of weights.

Practicing Yoga Safely

Although yoga is generally a safe form of exercise, you should consult your doctor before you begin. Some medical conditions — including glaucoma and an elevated risk of blood clots — may increase your risk of negative impacts from yoga.

Even if you do not have a health condition that might preclude beginning a yoga practice, it’s important to understand your personal goals and limits before beginning. If you have reduced mobility or arthritis, for instance, you may benefit from modifications to make movements more comfortable.

No matter your physical condition, it’s wise to begin slowly and gradually progress to more challenging poses. Be sure to work with a qualified instructor as you get started, and always warm up thoroughly before yoga sessions.

Yoga as Part of a Healthy Lifestyle

A safe, gentle yoga practice can play a significant role in developing an overall healthy lifestyle as you age. At Lake Park, residents can enjoy scenic views of Lake Merritt as they participate in fitness classes or work at their own pace in our well-equipped fitness center. To learn more about our active lifestyle, please contact us.

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