The practice of yoga has exploded in popularity in recent decades, thanks to the fact that it’s a highly versatile, effective, and low-impact form of exercise that’s suitable for a wide range of ages and ability levels. What many people may not realize, however, that yoga offers a number of overall health benefits that range far beyond basic fitness.
- Yoga restores flexibility. While this may seem like one of the most obvious upsides to yoga, there’s a lot more to being flexible than just being able to touch your toes. Tight ligaments, tendons, and muscles can shorten over time, pulling joints out of alignment. This can result in pain, muscle strain, and stiffness throughout the body. Reversing this process can have positive downstream effects that are often significant and totally unexpected, like relief from back pain or chronic joint dysfunction.
- Yoga corrects bad posture. Poor posture is a silent but destructive enemy. It can curve areas of the spine that are intended to be straight, and straight areas that are designed to be curved. Not only can this result in pain and fatigue, but over time Anything that strengthens your core (torso) helps to keep your spine straight, which alleviates pain and helps prevent the bones in your spine from degenerating prematurely.
- Regular yoga practice helps to maintain balance. People who keep their limbs and core strong and flexible maintain a better sense of balance and aren’t as likely to fall. This means that good balance is essential for preventing injuries at any age, but as we get older and our bones naturally become more brittle, it becomes especially vital.
- Yoga promotes better bone health. Following up on the previous point, yoga (like any weight-bearing exercise) helps make bones stronger and ward off osteoporosis. Various studies have actually demonstrated the effectiveness of specific yoga positions, such as Downward- and Upward-Facing Dog, at strengthening the long bones in the arm--some of the most vulnerable bones in the body for seniors. There’s also evidence to support the idea that regular yoga practice in general can lead to an increase in bone density in the spinal column.
- Yoga prevents breakdown of cartilage and other joint tissue. Healthy joints are protected and lubricated by a substance called synovial fluid. If joints aren’t routinely taken through their full range of motion, however, the synovial fluid stagnates and doesn’t get “squeezed out” after all of the nutrients have been absorbed. As a result, the joint stays saturated with this depleted fluid and doesn’t have the capacity to absorb new fluid and the nutrients it contains. Joints that don’t get a fresh supply of fluid are in danger of wearing out and exposing the bone beneath, much like the way overused brake pads in your car can wear out and expose bare metal. Yoga, on the other hand, takes your joints through their full range of motion, preserving that essential “squeezing out and soaking up” process. Additionally, because yoga is low-impact and utilizes your own body weight, it’s much less likely to cause extra wear and tear on your joints.
Maybe the most important point to keep in mind is that a breakdown in any one of these areas--flexibility, posture, balance, bone health, and joint health--can have a domino effect, worsening any or all of the others. For instance, a gradual loss of muscle strength can leave you off balance, leading to a bad fall. A bad fall can render you immobile while you recover. Because you can’t move as well, your joints stiffen up and begin to break down, you lose muscle tissue, and your bones get thinner--all of which leaves you vulnerable to further falls, injuries, or problems with connective tissue.
On the flip side, improving your flexibility, posture, and muscle strength and can relieve pain and help you feel more stable, which in turn encourages you to move more--which, over time, continues to build more bone and muscle and prevents breakdown of joint tissues. The only question left is, "Which would you rather do for your body: Establish a cycle that makes it stronger all over, or one that tears it down?”
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