Yoga and meditation for healthier aging

August 21, 2017
By: Olivia Middleton MS, RD, LD

yoga and meditation

Yoga, meditation, and aging

Yoga and meditation have become popular forms of exercise and relaxation, and we continue to learn about even more benefits beyond fitness. Of the people who practice yoga in the US, 21% are over the age of 60. This is the second most popular group of yogis, falling behind the age group 30-39 who comprise 23% of the yoga practitioners. This is important because the aging population faces an increased risk for many conditions and diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, cognitive impairment, loss of balance, and increased respiratory issues.

In nursing homes, we see many residents with Alzheimer’s dementia, incidence of falls, and respiratory insufficiency, such as COPD. Many people will spend thousands of dollars on nursing home care including physical, occupational, and speech therapy as well as medication to correct or improve these physical and cognitive declines. Much of the research surrounding disease management is reactive, treating the disease once it occurs. However, a balanced, healthy diet and active lifestyle is beneficial for overall health and can be preventative or at least slow down the progression of many of the above conditions. Yoga and meditation can also have beneficial effects on many conditions in the aging population.

Health benefits of yoga and meditation

New research has shown that practicing yoga and meditation may help with conditions such as attention span, memory, respiratory status, neurogenerative diseases, and cellular aging  in older adults. Studies have shown that meditation reduces certain risk factors for Alzheimer’s, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Since these are also risk factors for heart disease, America’s leading cause of death, incorporating meditation into a healthy lifestyle may pack more benefits than you think. One study also found that in older participants, mindful meditation improved the thickness of the prefrontal cortex, important in the role of decision making and memory. Yoga can significantly improve pulmonary volumes and respiratory muscle strength in older women as well as balance and mobility. Many of the yoga studies included an 8-12 week yoga program, and many of the meditation studies included meditation for 15-20 minutes twice daily.

Getting started

While the research is growing and more studies are needed, incorporating yoga and meditation into one’s daily or weekly lifestyle can have preventative effects in regards to developing Alzheimer’s dementia and respiratory diseases. Finding a yoga studio in today’s world is easier than ever. If joining a yoga or meditation class feels too intimidating, you can always turn to your smartphone to find an app that will lead you through a peaceful flow at home (App: Down Dog), or guide you through a meditation sequence (App: Headspace) before heading off to dreamland.

How are you incorporating yoga or meditation into your own lifestyle or nutrition practice?  We'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

For more on information, check out our other posts on Mind Body Practices.