As my grandmother marched into her 80s, she would regularly eyeball pieces of furniture before sitting on them. "I'm afraid I won't be able to get up," she'd say, in the spirit of fun but with some underlying fear. Even though she and my grandfather stayed active by taking yoga classes at a senior center, and were a neighborhood hit riding their tandem tricycle in matching helmets and T-shirts, declining strength and range of motion with age just made certain everyday movements difficult.
I thought of my grandma while reading about an NIH-funded study from the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles on yoga for seniors. Published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the study quantified the physical effects of seven poses in 20 ambulatory older adults whose average age was 70.7 years. Participants attended hour-long Hatha yoga classes twice a week for 32 weeks. The researchers used biomechanical methods joint moments of force (JMOF) and electromyographic analysis at the beginning and end of the study to measure each pose's demands on select lower-extremity joints and muscles.
In a Research Spotlight, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine noted:
Findings from the study may be used to help design evidence-based yoga programs in which poses are chosen for the purpose of achieving a clinical goal (e.g., targeting specific joints or muscle groups or improving balance). The physical demands, efficacy, and safety of yoga for older adults have not been well studied, and older adults are at higher risk of developing musculoskeletal problems such as strains and sprains when doing yoga.
Study author Leslie Kazadi, a Los Angeles-based experienced yoga therapist, designed the yoga program with a geriatrician, exercise physiologist/biomechanist, and physical therapist from the research team and taught participants the poses. She told me that standing poses were chosen to target areas of the body that tend to become weak or limited in seniors. Hip stabilizers, for example, help with mobility and balance - and confidence in everyday situations, such as rising from a chair. "What you need to move around in the world is to be strong in your lower body," Kazadi said. "If you don't have stability downstairs, then you're not going to get freedom upstairs no matter what."
Previously: Exploring the use of yoga to improve the health and strength of bones, Ask Stanford Med: Pain expert responds to questions on integrative medicine, Exercise programs shown to decrease pain, improve health in group of older adults and Moderate physical activity not a risk factor for knee osteoarthritis, study shows
Photo by NCCAM/RaffertyWeiss Media