Yoga is big business, attracting more and more people each year. Designed to promote physical and mental health, yoga has helped millions of people across the globe control their stress and improve their flexibility, and studies have shown that yoga is only growing in popularity. According to a study conducted by the Harris Interactive Service Bureau, roughly 20 million Americans practiced yoga in 2012, marking a 29 percent increase from just four years earlier. While some men and women over 50 may feel their time to take up yoga has passed, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, yoga can pay numerous dividends for the over 50 crowd.
* Yoga can help alleviate hypertension. Also known as high blood pressure, hypertension is a potentially dangerous condition that makes the heart work harder to pump blood to the body. Hypertension contributes to a hardening of the arteries known as atherosclerosis, and can even contribute to the development of heart failure. A person's risk of developing hypertension increases as he or she ages, so it's important that men and women over 50 take steps to reduce their risk of hypertension, and yoga can help them do just that. A normal blood pressure is 120 over 80, but people with hypertension often have blood pressure readings of 140 and above over 90 and above. Studies have shown that yoga can reduce the top number, which is referred to as the systolic blood pressure. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension, researchers found that men and women who practiced yoga for six hours a week for 11 weeks reduced their systolic blood pressure by 33 points. The study's authors feel that the slow, controlled breathing that's essential to practicing yoga decreases nervous system activity, helping the body manage its blood pressure levels.
* Yoga helps practitioners maintain healthy weights. While yoga may not help men and women shed weight as effectively as more vigorous activities, it can help them maintain healthy weights. Many men and women over 50 find vigorous or strenuous physical activity too demanding, and might not be able to perform such activities with the frequency necessary to prevent weight gain. But while yoga is physically demanding, those who practice yoga often find it takes a smaller toll on their bodies than more traditional strength training. Another way yoga can help to maintain a healthy weight is through its relation to stress. Yoga can help to relieve stress, and lower stress levels reduce the likelihood that men and women will overeat, which is a common response to elevated stress levels.
* Yoga promotes strong bones. Osteoporosis is a medical condition in which tissue loss leads to brittle and fragile bones. Aging is a significant risk factor for osteoporosis, and women are at even greater risk than men. The National Osteoporosis Foundation notes that women can lose up to 20 percent of their bone mass in the five to seven years after menopause, so it's important that women (and men) take steps to strengthen their bones. The nature of yoga makes it an ideal activity to promote healthy bones. Because it is a weight-bearing exercise, yoga forces practitioners to hold the weight of their bodies up against gravity. This resistance to gravity puts mild stress on the bones, which respond by laying down new bone growth. But unlike other weight-bearing activities, such as jogging or walking, yoga does not damage cartilage or put stress on the joints. The AARP notes that studies have indicated the weight-bearing activity of yoga can be especially effective at reducing the risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
Though yoga might not have been popular when today's men and women over 50 were in their 20s and 30s, that does not mean such men and women cannot take advantage of the numerous physical and mental benefits yoga has to offer.