En español l Thirty-eight years ago, cardiologist Dean Ornish, M.D., made headlines with his claim that yoga and meditation, when combined with improvements in diet and exercise habits, could reverse heart disease.
Since then, research into the health benefits of yoga, especially its effect on adults 50-plus, has exploded.
Here, a brief guide to the benefits of yoga (and some poses you can do) in your 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond.
3 Reasons to Practice Yoga in Your 50s
1. Minimize hypertension
"Yoga has a powerful effect on stress and hypertension and can help people reduce the amount of medication they need," says Amy Wheeler, yoga professor at California State University at San Bernardino. In a review of 17 studies published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers reported significant reductions in blood pressure for interventions incorporating three basic elements of yoga practice: postures, meditation, and breathing. Researchers speculate that the slow, controlled breathing inherent in yoga practice decreases nervous system activity, which helps manage blood pressure levels.
2. Strengthen bones
"People in their 50s often develop the beginning stages of osteoporosis and low bone density," notes Melinda Atkins, a yoga teacher in Miami. Studies consistently show that the weight-bearing activity of yoga helps slow bone thinning, reducing the risks of osteoporosis, particularly among postmenopausal women.
3. Keep excess pounds at bay
Yoga enhances concentration and determination in all aspects of life. Practicing it every day "improves willpower and shifts your focus toward wellness rather than instant gratification," says Larry Payne, yoga director at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. In a 2014 study out of India, published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers reported that people with diabetes who did yoga 3-6 days per week for 8 weeks, shed more pounds and inches than those who walked for the same time period.
2 Poses for Your 50s
CHAIR POSE: Stand with your back against a wall, feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees and slide your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor, as if you were sitting on a chair. Gently pull in your belly button and hold out your arms in front of you.
TREE POSE: Stand tall and balance your weight on your left leg. Bring the sole of your right foot as high up your left leg as you can, holding your hands as if in prayer. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
3 Reasons to Practice Yoga in Your 60s
1. Reduce anxiety
Yoga induces the relaxation response, an alpha state between awake and asleep that helps modulate the way the body responds to stress. When faced with a potential threat (or ongoing stress), your heart beats faster, your muscles tense and you start to sweat. Yoga stops this process in its tracks, reducing your heart rate, lowering blood pressure and easing respiration. Case in point: A 2015 study published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine reported that women who participated in a 60-minute yoga class twice a week reported greater reductions in anxiety after the 8-week study period compared to those who didn’t participate.
2. Protect your joints
During your late 50s and early 60s, you may begin to notice that your joints aren't as fluid as they used to be. Practicing yoga regularly can help lubricate joints, staving off debilitating disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis. "It's important to start caring for your joints, to help maintain your independence and preserve your ability to perform daily activities as you get older — things like brushing your teeth, combing your hair, getting dressed," says Wheeler. Yin yoga, a type of practice where poses are held for up to 20 minutes, may be especially beneficial for lubricating and nourishing the joints.
3. Build strength and balance
Yoga's slow, measured movements and strengthening poses can help you achieve better balance and prevent falls as you age. Falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults; every 11 seconds, an older adult visits the emergency room for treatment related to a fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yoga gives you the tools now to prevent a bad fall so you can still move around in your 80s.
2 Poses for Your 60s
COBBLER'S POSE: Sit with your spine straight and legs spread out. Bend your knees and bring your feet toward your pelvis, so the soles of your feet touch. Press your elbows on your thighs, coaxing them closer to the floor.
WARRIOR 1: Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Keeping your right foot stationary, bend your right knee deeply and place your left foot about 3 feet behind you, pointing your left toes outward. With your front knee bent at a right angle, raise both arms near your ears and look up. Take three breaths, then return to a standing position. Repeat.
3 Reasons to Practice Yoga in Your 70s — and Beyond
1. Improve balance
Yoga tones muscles and works on your proprioception — your sense of position in space. Practicing postures that emphasize standing and balance can help build strength and confidence, too. "About 80 percent of proprioception is in your ankles, so standing poses are important, particularly for people in their 70s," explains Payne "As you get more sedentary, your sense of balance atrophies. 'Use it or lose it' really does apply."
2. Sharpens your mind
Unfortunately, as we age, our thought processes aren't as sharp as they once were. The upshot: A 2016 International Review of Psychiatry study reported that practicing yoga relaxation techniques for 30 minutes had immediate beneficial effects on brain function and performance among people with multiple sclerosis.
"Focusing on the breath and synchronizing it with movement helps keep the mind clear and engaged," Atkins says. Breathing exercises such as alternate-nostril breathing help harmonize the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which correlate to the logical and emotional sides of the personality.
3. Boosts mood
Yoga's combination of breathing, meditation and movement creates an overall sense of well-being. In fact, studies show yoga has a greater impact on enhancing mood and reducing anxiety than other forms of exercise. The reason? Yoga boosts levels of the brain chemical GABA, which helps calm nerves.
2 Poses for Your 70s and Beyond
HALF CHAIR AT THE WALL: Stand about 1 foot away from the wall, with your rear touching the wall. Raise your arms forward and up over your head, with your palms facing each other. Bend your knees and squat halfway to the floor. Hold for five breaths, then stand. Repeat.
ALTERNATE-NOSTRIL BREATHING: Put the tips of your right index finger and middle finger between your eyebrows; put your ring and little fingers on the left nostril, and your thumb on the right nostril. Press your thumb on the right nostril and breathe through the left. Then press on the left nostril and breathe through the right. Repeat for five minutes.
Illustration by Steve Sanford
A pose for any age
THE CORPSE POSE
Here's a totally relaxing option everyone can do!
Lie flat on your back, pillow under your head, eyes closed. Allow your feet to splay to the sides. Rest your arms alongside your body, palms facing up. Then relax, surrender to the floor and breathe deeply.
Amy Paturel is a freelance writer.