Designing a yoga program for active seniors: how a simple yoga practice can alleviate symptoms of arthritis, hypertension and osteoporosis, three health conditions that typically affect older adults

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Author: Leigh Crews
Date: Apr. 2005
From: IDEA Fitness Journal(Vol. 2, Issue 4)
Publisher: IDEA Health & Fitness
Document Type: Cover story
Length: 3,265 words

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Fitness professionals are reporting a surge in the number of active older adults engaging in mind-body exercise programs, such as yoga. And in the 2004 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey, 47% of respondents said they now offer specialty programming just for seniors (IDEA Health & Fitness Association 2004).

What are some of the benefits and contraindications of yoga for active seniors? Are there appropriate yoga breathing techniques and pose sequences for our older clients? And what can we, as fitness professionals, do to appropriately adapt our regular yoga classes to accommodate clients who suffer from three of the most common health conditions facing seniors today: arthritis, hypertension and osteoporosis?

Health Benefits of Yoga

Studies have shown that the practice of yoga--including pranayama (breath work), asana (movement) and dhyana (meditation)--offers numerous physiological and psychological health benefits for all age groups. When it comes to older yoga students, the beneficial effects can be particularly helpful in relieving the symptoms of arthritis, hypertension and osteoporosis. These effects include

* decreased blood pressure

* increased respiratory efficiency

* improved musculoskeletal flexibility and range of motion (ROM)

* improved posture

* increased strength and resiliency

* improved immune function

* decreased pain

* improved somatic and kinesthetic awareness

* increased steadiness

* improved depth perception

* improved balance

* improved integrated functioning of body parts (Lamb 2001)

The Physiology of Aging

As we age, our bodies undergo a number of degenerative physiological changes in the skin, bones, heart, blood vessels, lungs, nerves, and other organs and tissues. Yoga instructors working with an aging population need to become familiar with these changes and know how to modify a yoga practice to address the conditions commonly seen in seniors. Even if you are not teaching a class specifically for older adults, this information will prove valuable as more and more seniors start to participate in mainstream fitness classes.


Arthritis is a medical condition that affects the joints and causes pain, swelling and stiffness, especially in older adults. Although the term arthritis encompasses more than 100 different diseases and conditions, two of the most common types that affect the senior population are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis (Keller 2004).

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammation of the joint lining (synovium), which leads to weakness, loss of mobility and eventual destruction and deformity of the joints. It is a chronic disease that affects sufferers for life, but it is also episodic in that flare-ups can occur at any time. Because RA is a systemic disease, it affects other organs in the body. RA affects 1% of the U.S. population, impacting the lives of some 2.1 million Americans (The Arthritis Foundation 2005).

Osteoarthritis (OA) is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage in the part of the joint that cushions the ends of bones. This causes the bones to rub directly against each other, causing pain and limiting movement. Also known as degenerative joint disease, OA usually appears after middle age and affects the hands and weight-bearing joints, such as those in the knees, hips, feet and back. OA can lead...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A131276088