Yoga is Good Physical Activity for Older People

Physical inactivity leads to serious health issues. Inactivity accounts for 9% of all deaths worldwide and is among the top 10 risk factors for global disease burden. More importantly, nearly half of people aged over 60 years are inactive. Efforts to influence that factors that detract from physical activity can help alleviate this health risk.

Senior Man Doing Pushups

A recent study in Australia has aimed to identify the range of barriers and facilitators to physical activity among those over 60 years of age.  In doing so they hope to be able to address the barriers and encourage the facilitators so that physical activity can be enhanced and therefore their health.

The researchers performed a systematic review of qualitative studies on the perspectives of physical activity among people aged 60 years and over. MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsychINFO and AMED were searched. A rating system was used to assess the comprehensiveness of the included studies. From this data a thematic synthesis was used to analyse the data to glean some conclusions

From 132 studies involving 5987 participants, the researchers identified six major themes:

  • Social influences (valuing interaction with peers, social awkwardness, encouragement from others, dependence on professional instruction);
  • Physical limitations (pain or discomfort, concerns about falling, comorbidities);
  • Competing priorities;
  • Access difficulties (environmental barriers, affordability);
  • Personal benefits of physical activity (strength, balance and flexibility, self-confidence, independence, improved health and mental well-being); and
  • Motivation and beliefs (apathy, irrelevance and inefficacy, maintaining habits).

The group of researchers found some insights. They concluded that some older people still believe that physical activity is unnecessary or even potentially harmful. Others recognize the benefits of physical activity, but report a range of barriers to physical activity participation.

From these insights, two specific strategies to enhance physical activity participation among older people were suggested.

  • Raising awareness of the benefits and minimize the perceived risks of physical activity and
  • Improving the environmental and financial access to physical activity opportunities.

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that to achieve health benefits, and improve functional abilities, adults aged 65 years and older should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. It is beneficial to add muscle and bone strengthening activities using major muscle groups, at least 2 days per week. They caution that those with poor mobility should perform physical activities to enhance balance and prevent falls.

Looking at the two strategies suggested by the researchers and the physical activity guidelines, it could be surmised that achieving the guideline goals would be a challenge. I submit that Yoga as a physical activity can address the two strategies and reach activity goals. Yoga is easily performed anywhere at a low risk of physical injury. Yoga promotes aerobic and muscle fitness while increasing balance. Yoga could be a great strategy to safely introduce and increase physical activity participation among those over 60 years of age.

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