College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Yoga improves health in later life, study says

Older adults who practise yoga are more likely to be in better mental and physical shape, research suggests

Yoga improves physical function as well as mental wellbeing in healthy adults over the age of 60, the study found.

The physical benefits of yoga – an ancient practise that includes the use of postures and regulated breathing – were found to include better muscle strength, balance and flexibility.

Boosts to health

Boosts to mental health included improvement in the symptoms of depression, sleep quality and vitality in older adults.

Researchers at the University reviewed 22 studies that had investigated the effects of yoga on physical and mental wellbeing in older adults. The yoga programmes varied in length from one month to seven months, and duration of sessions ranged from 30 to 90 minutes.

Statistical analysis combined the results of the studies to see the effects of yoga compared to no activity, and compared to other activities such as walking and chair aerobics.

Physical improvements

The researchers found that people who practised yoga had improved balance, flexibility, leg strength, depression, sleep quality, vitality and perceived mental and physical health – compared to no activity. 

Compared with other activities yoga improved lower body strength, lower body flexibility and depression. 

Researchers say the review improves understanding of the benefits yoga can offer an ageing population. They say it provides evidence for promoting yoga in physical activity guidelines for older adults.

A large proportion of older adults are inactive, and do not meet the balance and muscle strengthening recommendations set by government and international health organisations. Based on this study, we can conclude that yoga has great potential to improve important physical and psychological outcomes in older adults. Yoga is a gentle activity that can be modified to suit those with age-related conditions and diseases.

Divya SivaramakrishnanPhysical Activity for Health Research Centre

The study is published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity.

Link to study

Physical Activity for Health Research Centre (PAHRC)