America is aging. Every day over 10,000 people turn 60. Seniors are the largest growing segment of the US population. In 2010 there were 40 million people in the US over 65; by 2030 it is expected that this will nearly double to over 72 million people. After age 40 the body begins to show the effects of aging. The bodily systems slow down and become slower to react and recover. The heart becomes stiffer and larger. Lung capacity decreases. Filtering capacity of the kidneys and liver are reduced. Muscle mass decreases and fat quantity increases. There are increased incidences of insomnia. Hearing is impaired. Dizziness rates increase due to medications and reduced oxygen levels.Â The impact of neuro-muscular patterns imprinted by early injuries reveal themselves. In general the body is more fragile.
Even with aging bodies, today, many enjoy energetic healthy life styles well into their elder years. However, many do not. 80% of average older adults have at least one chronic condition and 50% of them have at least two. These chronic conditions include: high blood pressure, arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, emphysema, CPOD, stroke, and clinically relevant depression. Additionally, according to Duke University in a paper published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, more than half of all adults over 65 have a disability and over a third are severely disabled. More than 87% of seniors take a least one prescription drug and nearly 60% take three or more. The average 75 year-old has three chronic conditions and uses five prescription drugs. Several classes of medications commonly taken by seniors including anti-hypertensives, anti-anxiety, and anti-depressants are associated with dizziness, in particular postural dizziness. This is of particular concern, since falls are the leading cause of injuries and hospital admissions for trauma in this age group.
Yoga to the rescue! Yoga can help prevent and reverse these effects of aging. Yoga is unique because it combines or yokes the mind, body and breath (spirit) into a holistic approach to health. There are evidence-based yoga solutions to help prevent, manage symptoms, and treat all of these conditions affecting older Americans. These science-based outcome studies capture the synergistic effects of yoga asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), and dhyana (meditation) for well-being.
From Harvard Medical School:
“By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. This decreases physiological arousal – for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. There is also evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s ability to respond to stress more flexibly.”
From Stanford University:
“Among the 410 participants, those practicing yoga recorded nearly double the improvement in sleep quality and reduction of fatigue compared to those not practicing yoga. They also reported better quality of life overall. The group had all of these benefits while reducing sleep medications.”
From National Institute of Health (NIH):
Current research suggests that a carefully adapted set of yoga poses may reduce low-back pain and improve function. Other studies also suggest that practicing yoga (as well as other forms of regular exercise) might improve quality of life; reduce stress; lower heart rate and blood pressure; help relieve anxiety, depression, and insomnia; and improve overall physical fitness, strength, and flexibility.
However, the ancient yoga gurus never envisioned their disciples living long enough for their bodies to experience these effects of aging. As of 1900 the average life expectancy was 46.3 for men and 48.3 for women. This is why the ancient practices of yoga have been enhanced recently to include a focus on alignment for preventing injury and the onset of chronic conditions as well as modifications for individuals with chronic conditions including posture series performed in chairs and using other props.
The longer you live the more probable it is that you will acquire a chronic condition. It is just a matter of time. It is not if, but when. Through yoga the on-set of these chronic conditions can be delayed. Yoga as a life style change can significantly increase the quality of living as we age by keeping us healthy and independent.