Yoga is undoubtedly a popular practice worldwide and can offer many benefits. But can it make older adults stronger?
A new study suggests it can. However, the data is relatively weak.
The review of 33 clinical trials, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that older adults who participated in yoga programs typically gained some lower body strength and boosted their walking speed.
These findings suggest that yoga might help older adults manage some strength and movement limitations that come with age. However, there was little consistency in the work reviews. The studies were all quite small and varied in the groups studied.
In some cases, the studies involved healthy older adults living at home. Sometimes, they were nursing home residents; some were people with health conditions like knee arthritis or Parkinson’s. The trials also featured different styles of yoga.
Yoga is an ancient practice that blends physical postures, breathing practices, and meditation. Nowadays, it can vary widely. Some vigorous classes require participants to move quickly or get up and down.
If you’re an older person looking to start yoga – or perhaps looking to try it for the first time at any age – lyengar-based practices are likely best. It focuses on good form for poses and can be adapted with props, like chairs or other supports, for individual needs.
If you have a chronic condition, talk to your doctor first.
But is yoga really better than tai chi, weight training, or simply boosting activity? The study did not answer these questions. In fact, the mere movement of getting up and going to a yoga class could have explained some of the strength and speed gains observed.
Building muscle by any means in the lower body, which can help increase speed and balance, may help protect against frailty. Yoga may be able to help, but it’s likely not as efficient for building strength and speed as tai chi or resistance training.