It’s no surprise that as we age, our bodies and their capabilities continue to change. We might experience illnesses more often, cognitive changes and loss of flexibility and balance. While these changes can cause disturbances in our day-to-day lives, they can also put our health and lives at risk. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury and death in older adults, responsible for nearly 27,000 fall deaths in seniors each year. Unfortunately, this rate is estimated to rise with the influx of baby boomers reaching retirement. While falling can cause bruising, it can also cause broken bones, head trauma and eventually lead to cognitive decline.
Can Yoga Improve Balance?
While there are many causes of falls in older adults, many falls can be attributed to a lack of balance. Research suggests that there is a connection between our ability to balance and our cognitive skills. Researchers from Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine studied this relationship by asking older adults to stand on one leg, while lifting the other in front of them, bent at the knee. The results of this study suggested that most of those who reported failing the test and who previously had no history of balance problems, had small lesions on the brain which can be a precursor to a stroke or dementia. Strengthening your balance or speaking to your doctor if you notice a change in your balance can help you address health concerns before they become a problem.
Benefits of Yoga Practice
The risk of falling dramatically increases as we age, so it’s important to do what we can to prevent falls. Focusing on exercises that improve endurance, strength, balance and flexibility not only reduce the risk of falling, but can also decrease recovery time after a fall, as well as decrease the severity of the injury. Yoga works to build all four of these skills, making it an important element of a fall prevention plan. In addition to decreasing risk of falls, yoga has a number of benefits, especially for older adults who practice consistently.
Traditional exercise, such as running and weightlifting, can become more difficult on our joints as we age. Yoga allows us to build strength and increase our heart rate without putting strain on the body. Yoga uses your body weight as resistance, and is a great way to build muscle and improve posture without damaging the body.
Yoga uses different forms of stretching and holding to lengthen our bodies and develop a greater range of motion. Many older adults become inactive as they age, resulting in a small range of motion, which can make it more likely to experience a fall.
Good Bone Health
Yoga can be helpful in preventing loss of bone density and can even work to build bone. This exercise involves gentle twisting and stretching which can help give relief to those who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis.
Keeping Your Mind Sharp
Exercise in general releases endorphins, which can positively affect our mood. Similarly, the practice of yoga allows our bodies to function better, relieve stress and help us feel in control.
Balance and Stability
By strengthening the core muscles, yoga can help improve one’s balance, ultimately decreasing the likelihood of falling. Not only can yoga help prevent falling, the endurance and strength that comes with it can also help seniors recover more quickly if a fall were to occur.
Focused breathing is a major element of each yoga movement. Those who practice consistently might notice an improvement in their respiratory system.
Yoga is known to reduce stress and anxiety through its repetitive motions, focus on breath and slow movements. When you maintain a consistent practice, yoga also has the ability to reduce inflammation in the body.
Holly Foss, Fitness Director at Maplewood at Brewster, spoke to us about the positive impact her yoga classes have had on residents, especially those receiving memory care, “I have been brought to tears many times from witnessing the calming effects yoga has on even those residents with the most advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. My class provides a safe, calming space where they can take a break and relax their brains. It truly is amazing to witness.”
“You can actually feel the energy in the room shift a few minutes into the class. Residents who have a hard time focusing and following direction, are making eye contact, maintaining focus and following every movement. Seeing our residents regain confidence and pride in themselves makes everything I do worthwhile,” said Holly.
No matter what their fitness level is, Maplewood Senior Living helps all our residents begin or maintain some form of exercise. There are many classes for beginners such as yoga, water aerobics, body and balance, joint ease and fit for life. Often it is about getting residents to turn their brain off for a while and focus on their bodies instead. Sometimes, we turn down the lights, use a lavender scent to calm them, light a candle, add relaxing music and even adjust our voice. The residents really look forward to this time to unwind.
How to Do Yoga Poses Correctly
In order to strengthen our balance, it’s important to focus on yoga poses that require you to transition from one move to the next. Maintaining a consistent practice will allow you to build the strength and endurance that can protect you from falling. In partnership with the University of Miami, the Yoga Journal published a series of yoga poses that will help you build balance and strength.
• Mountain Pose– Begin in a standing position with your feet parallel and close together. Slightly bend your knees and contract your abdominal muscles to draw the ribs in while stretching your hands out to the side.
• Chair Pose– Starting from the Mountain Pose, bend your knees over your ankles, pull your abdominal muscles in and reach your arms above your head.
• Tree Pose– From Chair Pose, slightly bend the right knee and place the right foot either above or below the inside of the left knee. If you feel unsteady, hold onto the wall or chair. Repeat on the other side.
• Standing Pigeon– Stand with your feet hip-width apart and lift your left foot over your right knee. Sit back into a single-chair pose while keeping your foot flexed. Lower as much as you can, while holding onto a sturdy chair if needed.
Stay Healthy and Active at Maplewood Senior Living
At Maplewood Senior Living, we know how detrimental falling can be to one’s health. That’s why we offer exercise and lifestyle classes to help prevent falls and related injuries. If you’re interested in hearing about our services, or want to schedule a tour, please don’t hesitate to contact us.