Frailty is a serious problem for older adults and affects around half of people over 80. With its associated issues including weakness, muscle wasting, falls and fractures, it can have a significant impact on independence and quality of life and increase risk of mortality.
Yoga and getting strong
Yoga is an age-old practice incorporating physical poses, breathing and meditation that is used to harmonise the body, mind and spirit. It can reduce pain and improve balance, mobility, posture and flexibility as well as mental health.
Frailty is a complex condition with many contributing factors such as problems with walking, balance, cognitive function and chronic health issues. With low-impact options and various levels that can be adopted by people of any age or ability, yoga is an ideal way to address these.
“When you look at a whole person, especially an older person, there may be a number of difficulties that each contribute to frailty,” explains first author Julia Loewenthal from the Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston, US.
“Since yoga is an integrative practice that impacts multiple areas of health, it may be effective for preventing a syndrome like frailty, which has multiple causes.”
The review included 33 randomised controlled trials that involved more than 2000 older adults with an average age of 72. The key findings were that yoga can increase physical abilities such as walking speed and leg strength, which are both markers of longevity.
According to Health News, the best forms of yoga for older adults are Hatha yoga for beginners – the foundation for all yoga techniques; restorative yoga – a gentle method using props; and chair yoga using – as the name suggests – a chair for doing the postures.
The importance of being active
Physical activity in general has declined around the world, a situation that has been hailed as a global crisis of inactivity which is not only linked to frailty but also chronic illnesses including heart disease, stroke, cancer, mental illness and cognitive decline.
While the recent review concluded that yoga didn’t offer benefits beyond other exercise such as tai chi, it was limited by inconsistencies and small sample sizes – after all, study outcomes are only as good as what is measured, and how. But ideally, given that the studies didn’t show improvements in measures such as grip strength, it should be supplemented by other forms of activity.
Broadly, it’s recommended that people engage in a range of physical activities that promote muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness and balance – and as a bonus, exercise can also help relieve anxiety and depression.
Ultimately, anything that inspires people to get active doing something they enjoy will offer benefits – even (and especially) for older adults. As Lowenthal says, “It’s never too late to start a yoga practice or exercise regimen to help with your overall health status in your later years”.