Yoga May Improve Your Health Span as You Age

Scientists examined dozens of studies and found that yoga improved frailty markers like gait speed, leg strength, and endurance. However, the researchers say that yoga might not offer more benefits than other forms of exercise.

Improving health span — the length of time a person remains in good health — has become a topic of interest in the scientific community and beyond. According to the WHO, the number of years people live in good health is increasing. For example, in the Americas, healthy life expectancy has risen from 64.1 years in 2000 to 66.2 years in 2019.

Frailty is one factor that plays a role in how long a person remains healthy as they age. However, no clear definition of frailty is often defined as age-related physical decline and increased vulnerability to adverse health events. Moreover, scientists assess frailty using markers like gait speed, activity levels, nutritional status, and strength.

One activity that might benefit older adults is yoga, as it may improve strength, flexibility, and balance. Still, the impact yoga has on frailty in older adults is unclear.

To examine how yoga might impact frailty markers in older adults, scientists from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School recently reviewed 33 randomized controlled trials to evaluate the effects yoga-based interventions had on frailty. Their research was published on March 14 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The randomized trials reviewed included 2,384 participants aged 65 years or older. The participants resided in surrounding communities and nursing homes; some lived with chronic health conditions. The yoga styles identified in the trials included Hatha, Iyengar, or chair-based yoga.

The team analyzed yoga’s effects on frailty markers, including handgrip strength, gait speed, balance, leg strength and endurance, and multi-component physical performance measures.

After reviewing the data, the researchers found moderate evidence that yoga improved gait speed, lower-extremity strength, and endurance. However, they found less convincing evidence that yoga improved balance and other physical functions or hand grip strength.

Moreover, the team found that yoga did not seem to offer a benefit for frailty markers over other exercises or tai chi.

In light of these results, the study authors suggest that health professionals consider recommending Iyengar-based yoga styles, and a home practice customized for older adult populations.

What is Iyengar yoga?

Primarily, Iyengar yoga focuses on the physical alignment of the body using specific poses. Because it's less demanding than more strenuous yoga practices, it’s considered a good option for people just beginning their journey into yoga and those not accustomed to high levels of physical exertion.

Iyengar builds flexibility, strength, and body awareness by holding asanas — or the physical posture — longer and practicing awareness of the body’s alignment. Along with benefits to physical health, Iyengar yoga may also help promote mental and spiritual well-being.

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