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Exercise

5 Science-Backed Ways Yoga Can Help You

Editor’s note: Before starting yoga or any new exercise activity, be sure to check with your doctor.

You can practice yoga at any age, in a group or on your own. And if you think you have to get all new-agey to benefit from this ancient activity, reconsider. Hard and fast science is finding real ways yoga can make a difference to your body and mind. Here are five ways yoga can help you:

  1. Increased flexibility

While one hour of yoga won’t change your life, it doesn’t take long to start seeing benefits. The Mayo Clinic reports that regular yoga practice “may help reverse some effects of aging, such as restricted and narrowed movements.” More and more health researchers are focusing on flexibility as a measure of wellness. When joints are flexible, there’s less risk of injury. Your body also requires less energy to do things, making exercise or activity easier.Yoga may look like it is only for people already flexible, but that isn’t true. You can modify every position based on where your body is today. Bit by bit, through patient practice, you’ll see real improvements in flexibility.

  1. Decreased blood pressure

Blood pressure problems lead to heart problems, so millions of Americans take medication to treat the issue. But a simple yoga practice—even modified—can have similar results. Stressful events raise our blood pressure, as the body releases hormones to get you ready for action. Yoga can counteract that and help your blood pressure remain stable no matter what life throws at you. There are specific postures, or moves, that have been found to impact blood pressure, and a good instructor will be able to tailor a routine targeting this health benefit.

  1. Pain relief

Lower back pain is the main area studies have looked at since it can be so hard to treat. Scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine analyzed a variety of studies and compared yoga to other treatments. They determined that yoga could help with back pain and functionality. Other research on migraines shows that three months of yoga leads to less frequent and less intense headache compared to people taking medication. This is one area where you want to be careful and talk with your physician and your instructor. Back problems, in particular, can get worse if you do movements incorrectly. Moving slowly, taking the time to learn techniques, and working with your teacher, can all combine to mean lasting improvements in chronic pain.

  1. Improved well-being

Some of the hardest things to measure are the ones that make the most difference in our life. That includes the general concept of well-being. Researchers are finding improvements in how people feel overall when they participate in yoga. That can mean lower stress levels, less anxiety, or a more positive outlook on the future. One type of yoga—yoga nidra or sleep yoga—is used to help with PTSD and other serious issues. You may not think the Department of Defense is where you’d find yoga research and training, but they’ve been using these techniques for years with great results. Chronic stress causes inflammation which impacts nearly all body systems. Ohio State University researchers have found that women who practice yoga have lower levels of blood compounds that cause inflammation—both generally and after having stressful experiences.

  1. Better balance

Falling becomes a bigger problem as we age, so balance is key. Indiana University researchers studied how yoga helped with generally and found that balance dramatically improved. After a stroke or with other health conditions, poor balance can lead to bigger problems. Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan developed a yoga program for women with chronic lung problems. They’ve seen great results with yoga for helping women get the balance and strength they need to go about regular life—things like walking up stairs.

The bottom line: If you’re not inclined to say OM, you don’t have to. Just concentrate on how your health and well-being can begin to improve with every stretch.