Do you remember Twister? Put your left foot on the red circle; put your right hand on the blue circle! It was a game designed to be entertainingly impossible.
Many seniors may feel the same way about yoga, especially if they experience arthritis, muscle stiffness, or other age-related aches and pains. They’re afraid that if they go to a yoga class someone will ask them to put their toes behind their ears, and it will hurt!
But more and more research is showing that yoga is really, really good for seniors. The AARP even endorses the practice! It’s as good for you as other aerobic exercises like jogging, but it’s low-impact, so it doesn’t put as much stress on your body. It also reduces inflammation, easing achy or swollen joints and providing endless benefits to those struggling with long-term injury or illness.
Not only can yoga help those aches and pains, it can help your cardiac health as well. That’s right: yoga can help keep your heart young and healthy.
Yoga for Cardiovascular Health
Study after study has found that people who practice yoga can lower their blood pressure, easing hypertension symptoms. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and even heart failure. It’s a dangerous condition!
It’s also a common one, more so in older people, and it’s hard to detect. High blood pressure can sneak up on you without any symptoms — until it begins to damage your heart. Practicing yoga helps prevent that damage.
Lowering blood pressure and reducing cholesterol levels are the primary ways that yoga keeps your heart young. But how do they work?
How Yoga Helps the Heart
To understand why bending and twisting in strange ways is so good for your most important organ, it helps to learn a little about the practice. Yoga is an ancient tradition. Its philosophy dates back around 5,000 years, and the physical practice has been taught for hundreds of years in India for its many benefits, including physical ones. The practice of yoga involves more than the exercises you see in the gym. For the purposes of heart health, two of its other components — breathing and meditation — also really do the trick.
But everyone breathes, right? Isn’t breathing kind of basic?
As it turns out, no! When you practice yoga, your teacher will instruct you in how to breathe. He or she will tell you take long, slow, deep breaths, and to time your breaths to match your movements.
Most people do not breathe this way naturally. When we experience life’s daily stressors, we respond with what’s known as “fight-or-flight.” In part, this response involves breathing shallowly and rapidly, and using the ribs rather than the diaphragm — the sheet of muscle under the rib cage — to move air through the lungs.
But research shows that learning to breathe deeply and slowly, the way you do in yoga, plays a part in reducing hypertension. How? One study found that deep breathing regulates the salt in your blood — a contributing factor to high blood pressure. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing also fills your lungs with more air, oxygenating your blood and helping all the cells in your body work more efficiently. So as your teacher encourages you to breathe in and out through your nose, your body is working better!
The practice of yoga also involves meditation, an activity in which you sit quietly, connect with your breath, and then learn to observe and accept your thoughts and feelings. This practice reduces stress response significantly, and reduced stress has corresponding health benefits.
Over thirty-five years ago, research showed that meditation reduces hypertension. We know now that the practice also reduces cholesterol, and it even appears to intervene in patients’ less healthy habits by encouraging healthy lifestyle changes. It appears that when you hit the mat and meditate, both lifestyle changes and internal processes conspire to improve your heart health.
And then, of course, there’s the exercise component. Certain types of yoga can be aerobic, which help you shed any excess weight, reduce your risk for osteoporosis, and help your cholesterol and blood pressure. As you age, you begin to lose muscle mass faster than younger people, and yoga can help you out with that problem, too. Even slower forms of yoga help you build muscle mass and improve flexibility. Getting up and moving is one of the best things you can do for your overall health.
Choose the Right Yoga Practice
Some people attend one yoga class and are turned off for good, because it was too difficult or painful in some way. But not all yoga is made alike! That’s why you should research yoga studios in your area and choose your class carefully. It’s a good idea to look around until you find a class that makes you feel good.
What class should you choose? It all depends on what health benefit you’re looking for. There are many types of yoga, including vigorous vinyasa classes, which are more aerobic; gentle yin yoga classes, focused on soft tissue relaxation; and alignment-based classes that help ease injuries and correct the postural problems that can plague older people. Many studios even offer ‘silver’ classes with poses specifically designed for seniors!
When you find the right yoga class for you, you’ll know it— you’ll feel rejuvenated in the few days after class.
HealthMarkets Can Help You
Yoga is great preventive medicine, but it’s not the only kind out there. Medicare covers many preventive services and you have the right to receive these services on a Medicare Advantage Plan. High blood pressure can be a problem, but can be best prevented or controlled by regular checkups with your doctor — and those checkups are covered under most insurance policies. When you call one of HealthMarkets’ 3,000+ licensed agents, we can help you find a Medicare Advantage Plan or Medicare Supplement policy that’s right for you and your budget.
Give us a call today at (800) 827-9990 and let us set you on the path to a strong, healthy heart.