offers any special benefits.”
Loss of leg strength and walking speed can be indicators of frailty — a decline in the body’s strength and functioning that puts older adults at increased risk of disability, falls and hospitalization.
The trials in the review did not, however, specifically measure frailty as an outcome, Loewenthal notes. So it’s not clear whether yoga can help prevent or manage frailty, per se.
Dr. Neil Alexander is a geriatrics specialist at the University of Michigan and director of the VA Ann Arbor Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center.
He says the review was “well done,” but the trial data leave too many unknowns to draw conclusions. One big missing piece, according to Alexander, is what, exactly, yoga practitioners did to boost their leg strength and gait speed.
“You don’t know what they worked on,” he says.
Alexander notes that at this point, tai chi is much better studied than yoga, and has been shown to help older adults reduce their risk of falls. (Tai chi focuses on slow, fluid movement combined with mental imagery and deep breathing.)
There’s still a need for comparable research into yoga, Alexander shares.
That does not mean, however, that seniors should stay away from yoga until then. Alexander, who practices Iyengar yoga himself, agrees that a class in that style can be a good starting point.
What is the best type of yoga for seniors?
For seniors looking to start a yoga practice, Loewenthal says that an Iyengar-based class could be a good fit: That style of yoga focuses on good form in the poses, can be adapted to individuals, and uses props — like blocks, chairs and other supports — to help people achieve the postures.
Loewenthal also recommends talking to your doctor before taking up yoga if you have chronic medical conditions.
“You need an adaptable style of yoga,” Alexander says. “You don’t want a ‘flow-based’ yoga where you’re moving in and out poses.”
And while you can easily find a yoga class on YouTube, Alexander stresses the importance of beginners having in-person instruction, where they can get individual attention.
“I tell people you need to start with a class,” he says.
That does bring up an obstacle of cost, Loewenthal adds. Yoga classes are not covered by insurance, and can be pricey.
She recommends looking into places other than conventional yoga studios — like your local senior center, hospitals or YMCA. They might offer classes that are both designed for older adults and low-cost or even free.