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The benefits of yoga for seniors

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Corinne Sotto, 54, continues to embrace the benefits of yoga as she ages, gaining muscle strength, increasing flexibility and mitigating everyday stress. (Anita Szabadi-Gottesman photo)

Keeping fit as we age has become increasingly important as the average lifespan of today’s population continues to climb. According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian woman is expected to live until 84 years old, while men have an average life expectancy of 81, although that gap has been narrowing over the last decade.

The goal is to find ourselves more vibrant and capable through healthy aging. More and more research points out the benefits of exercise on the aging brain, such as seniors dealing with mild cognitive impairment or dementia, as well as those living with the challenges of Parkinson’s disease or cancer. Health Canada recommends adults, including those 65 and over, participate in at least two and a half hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week in sessions as short as 10 minutes each.

“I became increasingly interested in aging and what we can do to improve our quality of life as we get older,” says gentle yoga instructor Deborah Drisdell. “Functional exercises, those that keep us able to go about our usual daily life, are so important as we get older.” A yoga instructor at the West Island Cancer Wellness Centre in Kirkland, Que., Drisdell has put her love of yoga into practice.

Approaching 60 herself, Drisdell came to yoga in order to find some balance in a crazy, busy life while getting some gentle exercise. “What I discovered as I practised was that the holistic approach of yoga benefited my body, but most importantly, my mind and spirit,” says Drisdell. ”Yoga practice somehow truly affects the rest of your life.”

Breathing exercises energize the body or, alternatively, calm it during moments of stress, while yoga poses, or asanas, aid participants in accepting new age-related boundaries. ”Yoga meets you where you are, as any poses can be modified using blocks, a chair or wall, making it a perfect practice for someone looking to begin a fitness journey, recovering from surgery or dealing with long-term ailments,” points out Drisdell.

”There is no shortage of research that states that exercise, both cardiovascular and weight-bearing, has an impact,” stresses Drisdell. “The general thesis is that a healthy body sustains a healthy brain.”

READ: THIS IS 60 – WOMEN AND AGING IN CANADA

Health Canada, geriatric researchers and professionals working with seniors all point to yoga as a way of enhancing muscle and strengthening bones when practised at least twice a week.

A 2013 overview by the Huffington Post discussed five major health benefits of yoga for the 50-plus demographic. Acknowledging that beginning a yoga practice as an older adult can be intimidating, especially if one is out of shape or working with health conditions, the article notes that yoga is seen as a way to maintain a positive attitude, relieve stress and age gracefully, keeping the mind and body in good health. The benefits are summarized as follows:

1. Movement incorporating strength training.

2. Increased flexibility helps avoid a narrowing range of motion that can lead to more falls and limit the ability to carry out daily activities.

3. Relief from menopausal discomfort, such as hot flashes, and anxiety.

4. Prevention and slowing of bone density loss, helping to ward off osteoporosis or relieve pain from existing bone conditions.

5. Help with stress management and relief leading to more energy, vitality and mood enhancement, thus keeping the mind sharp.

A myriad of yoga classes geared for seniors are available at community centres, such as the Cummings Centre, and both private and public fitness facilities.

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