Yoga: it’s never too late to reap the benefits

Yoga can help fight stiffness, hardening of the arteries, hormonal fluctuations, depression and bone loss of bone density. And, says Josephine Fairley, you can start at any age

First, to inspire awe at how this form of physical exercise, popularized in the west in the late 19th/ early 20th centuries, can keep an individual strong and flexible, never mind at forty something but nudging towards a century old.

Those who can’t even touch their toes, however, may equally take one look and despair. Because at 80-plus, Iyengar (who still going strong) is still effortlessly touching his toes-not by bending forwards, but backwards, like a scarily supple Cirque de Soleil act.

It’s unlikely, of course, that anyone who embraces yoga in mid-life is ever going to be able to pipe- cleaner themselves into Iyenger-esque backbends. If yoga’s  starting to sound like a universal panacea-well, there are plenty of yoga teachers who’d argue it is indeed just that.

It is, so experts insist, never too late to take up yoga. One study for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine put 21 over-60s into a hatha yoga class, once a week for 12 weeks. To qualify, they had to be suffering from ‘dowager’s hump’ (hyperkyphosis), the dreaded hunched back which interferes with normal movement. The study, published in The American Journal of Public Health, reported impressive benefits: the curvatures themselves were reduced by 6%; walking speeds went up 8%, and ‘reaches’ were improved by 18%. As a bonus, many volunteers reported their balance was better – which is worth bearing in mind by anyone who dreads toppling like a ninepin in later life.

Despite BKS Iyengar’s claim that “daily practice of yoga will keep old age at bay”, it is not all we need for overall fitness. Only fast-paced practices like power yoga, astanga or bikram give the heart an aerobic workout. Beginners, certainly, should be wary of fast-paced classes, they may be a fast-track to injury among novices.

Combine walking with yoga (heck, perhaps even find a studio a convenient 20-minute power walk from your home/office) and that may well prove the prescription for lifelong fitness. The bonus? You may actually be able to untie your own trainers when you get there.

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