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Embracing Change: Yoga and the Aging Body

Embracing Change: Yoga and the Aging Body

As we age, our bodies undergo various physical, mental, and emotional changes. These transformations can be challenging to accept for many individuals, leading to feelings of frustration, disappointment, and even depression. However, we can better navigate advancing years by embracing change and finding ways to adapt and adjust.

One practice that’s been popular practice for decades due to its ability to encourage physical and spiritual health is yoga.

The Physical Benefits of Yoga for Aging Adults

Unlike other high-impact exercises, that may take a toll on your body, yoga is a low-intensity workout incorporating controlled breathing with stretches and meditation. Through regular practice, individuals can build strength, improve balance and flexibility, and reduce joint pain.

However, it can be intimidating to new practitioners, especially those who are older and those with mobility or health issues. Fortunately, yoga can be for everyone, and there are special classes tailored to the needs of aging people. Here are some of the physical benefits of yoga:

Improved Flexibility and Mobility

Over time, our bodies become stiffer, making it challenging to move freely. Yoga helps improve flexibility and mobility by stretching and strengthening the muscles, joints, and ligaments. It also helps to lubricate the joints and improve the range of motion, making everyday movements easier.

Better Balance

Falls are a significant concern for aging individuals, leading to injuries and even hospitalization. It’s also highly common among older adults, as nearly a quarter of older adults fall every year in the United States. Although yoga doesn’t eliminate the risk entirely of falling, it can help improve your balance and coordination, which can help prevent a fall in the first place.

Improving Self-Image and Accepting Change

Practicing yoga can help shift our relationship with our bodies by accepting and embracing the changes that come with aging. This is especially true in our society which places disproportionate value on physical appearances. Yoga teaches us to focus on how our bodies feel rather than how they look, leading to a more positive self-image.

Additionally, yoga can be part of your self-care routine by allowing time for reflection and an opportunity to let go of negative thoughts and embrace new beginnings later in life.

By regularly practicing yoga, individuals can gradually build acceptance and appreciation for their bodies, regardless of age.

Other Ways to Boost Health and Wellness

While yoga can be life-changing for older adults, it isn’t the fountain of youth, either. It can’t magically cure the process of aging. However, in conjunction with other actions, yoga can significantly improve your well-being far into your golden years. Let’s take a look at those additional actions.

Staying Active

Regular physical activity helps keep the body strong and flexible and can help manage chronic conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes. Ultimately, daily movement is the ultimate preventative measure for these latter two conditions which are common among older adults. As for arthritis, yoga can help strengthen the muscles around the joints which deteriorate because of the condition.

Eating and Drinking a Healthy Diet

Eating a wholesome diet that includes proteins, carbs, and healthy fats can help support the body by providing essential nutrients. For example, a diet filled with plenty of protein, vitamins, and minerals can prevent a variety of types of cancers, strengthen your muscles and bones, and aid in cognitive function.

In a similar vein, you must consider your alcohol intake. While too much alcohol can be harmful in excess, moderate intake of red wine has been linked to many health benefits, including lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Red wine is rich in antioxidants, which can help fight free radicals that contribute to aging.

How to Get Started With Yoga

Taking the first step can be difficult, but there are many resources available to help older individuals get started with yoga. Here are a few ways to incorporate yoga into daily life:

Start Small

It's tempting to jump into advanced poses and challenging routines, but listening to your body and starting slow is essential to prevent injuries. So, begin your yoga journey with gentle, beginner-friendly poses such as downward dog and child’s pose, then gradually work up to more advanced levels.

You can also use yoga props like blocks and straps can aid in modifying the poses and make them beginner-friendly. These props can be used to gain better alignment, provide support during difficult stretches, and deepen relaxation.

Stay Consistent

As with any exercise, consistency is crucial to improve strength and flexibility. Even if it's just 10-15 minutes a day, make an effort to practice yoga regularly to reap its full physical and mental benefits. This can also help build strength and confidence to try more challenging poses in the future.

Combine Yoga with Strength Training

Yoga can complement strength training and help increase muscle mass and bone density. This is crucial to older adults since it helps maintain strength and can reduce the risk of fractures and falls.

Some exercises that can improve muscular strength and endurance include holding static poses like plank or warrior poses, as well as dynamic movements such as sun salutations and balancing poses like tree pose or warrior III. Consider incorporating these stances in your fitness routine to avoid muscle and bone loss that comes with age. 

By Katie Brenneman

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