Study suggests yoga may improve longevity indicators in older adults


Yoga has long been associated with a host of health benefits – and it may even increase physical abilities associated with longevity, according to new research.

A systematic review from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that yoga improves health indicators linked to reduced frailty and increased longevity in older adults. Watch 33 random In controlled trials in 12 countries involving more than 2,000 participants, researchers determined with “moderate certainty” that practicing yoga improved certain markers of frailty, including walking speed, lower extremity strength and endurance.

Julia Loewenthal, a geriatrician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who was involved in the research, said this was important because many markers of frailty are “linked to clinically meaningful outcomes like independent living and mortality”. She said she hopes older adults will be “encouraged by this research and empowered to adopt a diet that works for them.”

Yoga incorporates physical poses, breathing, and meditation, and previous studies have looked at how it can improve balance and mobility, physical function, and mental well-being in older adults. The authors of the Brigham review say this is the first to examine the effects of yoga on frailty – a multifaceted and difficult to treat health condition associated with increased falls, hospitalizations and morbidity that is at the forefront of public health concerns as countries around the world deal with rapidly aging populations.

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Frailty affects 7 to 12 percent of people over 65 in the United States, according to the Medical University of South Carolina. He points out that the loosely defined condition has symptoms such as weakness, sluggishness, easy exhaustion, low stamina and weight loss.

The Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers were particularly excited about the strong association between yoga and walking speed, which has a “well-established link” to survival, Loewenthal said. “Slower walking may indicate that the vicious cycle of frailty is developing, which is associated with earlier death,” she said.

While standards haven’t been set for an optimal “yoga dosage,” the authors note that previous studies have recommended two to three one-hour sessions per week.

The Brigham researchers warn that the review has limitations. The studies they reviewed used different styles of yoga, although most were Hatha-based, and the duration of yoga interventions ranged from 4 to 28 weeks. Many studies also had small sample sizes.

Yoga also did not appear to improve grip, another measure associated with frailty, and there was less evidence that it improved balance, possibly because many studies used chair-based methods. Nor is the practice necessarily more beneficial than other forms of exercise, such as tai chi, the authors note.

“All of these practices work on multiple body systems, which is why they’re likely helpful for frailty, and they’re all healthy choices,” Loewenthal wrote, adding that more research is needed to compare different forms of exercise and their effects on frailty.

Christian Osadnik, a professor of physiotherapy at Australia’s Monash University who studies frailty, said it was “difficult to draw firm conclusions” from Brigham’s research. He added that the review “unfortunately had no strong evidence of results that even say yoga helps, prevents or reverses frailty.”

Still, he says the review offers a pathway to further research and could counter the negative stigma around frailty. “(Some people think that) if someone is frail, they’re in the basket ‘too hard’ and there’s not much we can do to help them,” Osadnik said. “That kind of information maybe helps us appreciate that we can do something.”

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